I have to admit that I did not read Andy Weir’s novel The Martian until after I’d seen the movie. The movie proving, as several of my friends have pointed out, especially in combination with what happened in Interstellar, that you never, ever, ever get in to an airlock with Matt Damon…
My take on the book is that, honestly, like most books that become Hollywood blockbusters, the book is a far more interesting, textured and full story. Drew Goddard did a great job with the screenplay, with much of the dialog being cribbed straight from the book, and of course Ridley Scott created a typical Ridley Scott ripping action packed movie. But there were enough little details I learned form reading the book that didn’t make it in to the screenplay – AND, that I immediately thought to myself, “gee that would have made things clearer in the movie” that I was a little confused as to why they got left out.
Yeah, I know things have to be cut to fit a reasonable length commercial Hollywood motion picture that people are actually willing to sit through. Yeah, I understand that the opinion of Hollywood toward the audience, especially with subject matter like this is, “they aren’t smart enough to understand – don’t confuse them, just give them explosions.” But in one or two places, a quick bit of exposition by some character somewhere in the movie might have been helpful.
On the other hand, the book (or rather to be specific, the Watney character in the book) has an annoying tendency to over-explain and re-explain a lot. There are a multitude of places in the book where Watney begins a phrase with something like, “… remember when I …” and then goes on to explain – in one place for literally the fifth time in the novel – why he had to do something a specific way. In this, it feels like Weir is treating the reader like a bit of an idiot or simpleton. I mean, really, we’re not supposed to remember something about pivotal moments in the story that we only read 40 or 50 pages ago?
And while the movie did the typical Hollywood thing of over amplifying danger, especially toward the end climax of the film, I would really, really have loved to see in the movie the rover-trailer rollover as Watney descends the entrance ramp in to Schiaparelli Basin. Personally, I think that would have been at least as “cinematic” and challenging a moment as the in-space rescue – which in the book, while not a cakewalk, was not treated with quite as much angst as in the film.
The bottom line is that within the pages of The Martian, I found a page turner of a story that held my attention without fail for chapter after chapter. I stayed up far too late on many nights reading because I simply couldn’t put it down. Mark Watney is a far more wise-ass and irreverent character than he is on film and because there’s space and time in those pages that can’t exist on film, the telling of the story is far more detailed and richer. We learn a ton about growing plants in a hostile environment, the chemistry of making water, air and rocket fuel, navigation without a magnetic field or GPS and a host of other items, including just HOW bad a rover can smell after several weeks of driving with one’s own bodily wastes stored inside.
The Martian is a story of bravery, adventure, smarts, creativity, inventiveness and the banality of 1970’s television sitcoms.
And disco. Always, always, disco.