Weekly Musing: The Martian – Book vs. Movie

Previously I’ve touched upon books adapted into either movies or TV series and which one is better. Today I’d like to focus on probably the first time I’ve ever seen a movie adapted from a book that actually held up to the book.

Last week I saw The Martian adapted from one of my favorite books I read last year, The Martian by Andy Weir. The movie apparently managed to achieve something I actually thought was damn near impossible. It is about as faithful to the book in pretty much every single area.

So how did this happen? Was it due to the stellar cast? The well-known sci-fi director Ridley Scott? Was it the screenplay? Let’s answer those questions in order.

The cast was great. I’ll admit I was hesitant about Matt Damon staring as Mark Watney. I felt he was a little bit old to play the role as in my mind I picture Watney about my age (mid 30s) and not Matt Damon’s age. However, he did capture Watney’s vulnerable sarcastic personality very well. I did buy Matt Damon as a botanist and someone who could science the shit out of things. The rest of the cast was very good as well but at the core of not only the movie, but the book too, this is about Mark Watney and that is the most important role. Had that not been done correctly, the movie would have fallen apart.

The director is Ridley Scott and he did an awesome job presenting the Mars as warm, foreboding, isolated, and hostile. Space as well as the Hermes space station looked wonderful as well. But since Ridley Scott is a well-known sci-fi director, I expected him to be able to handle something like this. I loved how the log entries were adapted from the bog into Watney logging his experiences by video recording himself. Also, since the outpost on Mars was already rigged with cameras to monitor the astronauts, this allows the viewer to see and experience what he’s going through.

Honestly the reason why this adaption worked so well is due to the source material as well as the screenplay. Drew Goddard, who created Netflix’s Daredevil series (which is an awesome series), maintained the overall integrity of Andy Weir’s book. The screenwriter didn’t gut Watney’s character even if many of his “fucks” aren’t in the film. Silly ratings system.

Since the book is about Watney, the screenwriter needs to be able to accurately capture all of his sarcasm and doubts about survival yet not giving up on life. Like the book’s author, Goddard gets what the main character is. I think sometimes that is why a lot of movie and TV series adaptions fall apart is the screenwriter does not stay true to a character.

Goddard also doesn’t stray from the seemingly insurmountable challenges NASA faces trying to figure out a way to communicate with Watney as well as getting him home, dead or alive. Nor is the crew Watney was apart of ignored. At first they face believing Watney is dead then discovering he is alive and then how do they rescue him.

Because the book itself doesn’t suffer from excess, the adaption really didn’t need to cut anything to make it work for a movie audience. Even the science behind not only Watney’s survival, but how Earth plans to bring him home, is explained in a way that doesn’t overwhelm the audience. Since the movie has the added ability of showing the audience, it makes the scientific explanation easier than when I read it. I did find reading the science was fairly easy for my liberal arts degree mind to digest and understand. There is a lot of complex science going on and too often movies dumb it down a lot to the point people who know better are upset because it’s not plausible.

Of course nothing is perfect and the movie did have a very few minor things I had grips with but honestly, they are so small, they aren’t worth listing. The only thing I will say is the movie added to the ending. Essentially it had an epilogue which isn’t in the book. It felt like it was put in there because the studio wasn’t satisfied with the book’s ending, which the movie still maintains, and wanted to wrap things up a little neater for the audience. Personally I didn’t need it.

The Martian adaption shows that it is possible to stay faithful to a book without making drastic changes which is what frequently screws up the story and angers fans. I’m not saying every book adapted into a movie or TV show has to stay to the source material. Often that is not feasible and what works in one medium does not translate well to the screen. It’s okay to cut or modify those sometimes. I’ve often felt fans who were disappointed something was not 100% faithful to the source material should just stick to reading the books(s) and their own head canon. With The Martian, though, book readers can be satisfied with it.

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