During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meager supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive.
THE REVIEW: Easily one of the best books I’ve read in the last couple years is Andy Weir’s The Martian. It is a fantastic mix of humor, science, problem solving, and drama. The story of Mark Watney, stranded and left for dead on Mars after a mission abort, is extremely gripping while also scoring a lot of nerd points with the level of detail about cultivating potatoes and producing water through combustion.
It is a rare case of me reading the book before the movie and shockingly, to me anyway, I found myself coming down in the camp of wanting a direct adaptation rather than creating something for the medium of film. The trailers looked encouraging because Watney (Matt Damon) maintains his funny demeanor and says he’ll “science the shit out of this”. But dig just slightly beneath the surface and you can tell, even from the trailer, that the focus is shifted from a survival story to a rescue story. Weir’s novel does include both aspects, but spends a vast majority of time on Mars with the survival part. I’ve heard complaints about the book that too much time was spent there and would have preferred an increased presence at NASA back on Earth. For those people, the film does a great job with that.
But for me, the essence of The Martian is survival and keeping hope that Watney will somehow return to Earth, alive. Once Watney reestablishes communications with NASA, he is brought on board to the rescue plans, but even then, he still has to worry about the vast wasteland of Mars and the infinite possible means of death that await him at the smallest possible mistake. I understand the need for change in bringing a novel to the screen and even that most of the parts of the novel I found most interesting are very inconsequential to the overall story.
And I’m not saying I disliked the film or the adaptation aspect of it. Quite the contrary; I’m a big fan of what director Ridley Scott pulled off and his vision. There are many parts of this film that I downright love including the little moments like the NASA crew building the replica hexadecimal signposts in a hangar to simulate the crude communications possible through the Pathfinder camera. It’s little things like that scene that show, while the nitty gritty details of math and science weren’t carried over, the essence of them did and you see that passion shine through loud and clear in the film.
THE TAKEAWAY: My recommendation is to both see the film and read the book and to do so in that order. While you may be more able to differentiate between the two mediums and the changes that are made, I feel as though I would have enjoyed and appreciated the movie much more without knowing what would happen first. Even at two and a half hours, The Martian seems to move at a brisk pace, laying the groundwork for a deeper dive later on. And a deeper dive is exactly what the book provides — a closer look and extensive description of what exactly happens, how, and why.
THE RATING: 4 out of 5