Edition 23: Book & Film Review: The Martian by Andy Weir
Reviewed by Damien Smith
I have been a little late to the party with The Martian. Andy Weir’s novel has been gaining steam for a good year or so, but by the time I finally managed to perch a copy on top of the To Read pile, we were only a month away from the movie release. So this issue I thought, why not look at both? I’ll gloss over much of the detail beyond the basics (guy stuck on Mars, does science, takes a long journey, gets rescued) because I really think you should read AND see this for yourself.
So here’s The Martian vs The Martian, a comparative review.
I’m a book first person every time if I can help it. It’s one reason why I still haven’t watched A Game of Thrones. It seems to inevitably lead to disappointment when I see a movie, but I can’t help myself. I’d rather know what’s going to happen in advance for the duration of a two hour movie than when spending days reading a book.
The book starts with 30 pages of infodump-via-voice log. There was a horrible accident on Mars and the explorers were forced to abandon the mission and leave our titular Martian Mark Watney for dead. Mark wakes up and starts taking stock of his situation, supplies and starts to form plans. 30 pages in I was wondering if this was going to be one long log book, and beginning to second guess my decision to give the book a go. Suddenly, the scene switches to NASA and real dialog. The moment they examine some satellite footage and realise that Watney was still alive literally gave me shivers. Then, as they are speculating on Mark’s mental state, we return to Mars, and the next log entry (Log Entry Sol 61: How come Aquaman can control whales? They’re mammals! Makes no sense.) had me in the bag. I was hooked.
There is a lot of science here, but Mark glosses over it in his journal entries without ever dumbing it down. This book has been praised for being very scientifically accurate and I can see why. Additionally, the impact of this event on everyone, not just Watney, is examined in detail. From the Watney Report every night on Earth, to NASA staff working themselves into the ground for a solution, to the rest of the crew speeding away from Mars, nothing is glossed over.
Some of the science, while not a barrier due to some skilful writing on Weir’s part, may become tedious for some, although I thoroughly enjoyed it as it gave a realistic feel to the whole story. Some of the quotable quotes and log entries like “After what I’ve been through, stuff on Mars should be named after me.” made Mark Watney not just likable, but thoroughly relatable.
There are also a host of supporting characters such as Venkat Kapoor the NASA administrator, a swarm of other NASA brethren and of course the five surviving astronauts en route back to Earth, and all are fleshed out and believable. Making this a very enjoyable read.
When it comes to the movie, adaptions from books always worry me. No matter the budget, they’re hard-pressed to compete with what goes on in my head, and this book was going to be a hard act to follow.
There are some glaring differences—no emergency tents attached to the hab (habitation) for extra farm land; very few details on the journey to the Ares 4 site with the second dust storm omitted completely and many more—but I don’t feel the film suffered for it. Not every movie adaptation can be a ten-hour trilogy after all. Many of the details that were removed were explanations of specific solutions Mark Watney MacGyvered together so, with the exception a friend’s point of “but where did he get the water for his rover journey from?”, I don’t this this was a loss to the experience.
For a book purist like myself, I was pleasantly surprised at the movie. The graphics were realistic, most of the quotable quotes like “I’m going to have to science the shit out of this” were included and the actors were, I think just about without exception, well cast.
One part that annoyed me somewhat was the creative licence taken with the final rescue. It felt like it was specifically altered to “Hollywood it up” a bit—Mark was changed from semi-conscious patient to Iron Man and the mission commander got to redeem herself as the rescuer—but it was a spectacular scene nonetheless. There was also the time difference between Earth and Mars due to the speed of light, that hampered communications; it was mentioned a couple of times, but seriously glossed over so that correspondence felt a lot more instant than would be possible with a half hour delay for all messages.
However the film version also had some bonuses. The two that spring immediately to mind were visualising the Martian rover Pathfinder, which is absolutely adorable, and the epilogue back on Earth that I really felt the book was missing. Otherwise the characters were there, the quotes were there and the story was intact.
So book versus movie? I’m not going to call it. They were both extremely enjoyable so better safe than sorry—get into both.
The Martian (Andy Weir)
Broadway Books, 2014
Being a writer requires dedication, commitment, devotion, diligence, a skin like an armadillo and a whole lot of blood, sweat and tears. By this definition, Damien is most definitely not a writer, although he does occasionally put pen to paper. More accurately, Damien is a lover of the written word in nearly all its forms (you can keep vampire romances) and always feels a little down if he can see over his To Read pile.