Escape Velocity

A curated Collection of Fantasy and Science Fiction Media

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NASA Astronaut Mark Watney was only supposed to be on Mars for 31 days. When a Dust storm almost kills him, the rest of the crew leaves – under the impression that their colleague is actually dead. In his logs, Watney keeps track of his days (or “sols” – Mars days) on the Red planet, and his efforts to survive on the supplies and equipment left behind with him. Every so often Mars tries to kill him, but Watney is resourceful and keeps his spirits up with humour.

This movie is lots of fun. I do prefer the book over the film, but only slightly. The biggest difference between the two is that in the book, we experience life on Mars through the logs that Watney records. In the movie, however, we see it through his eyes. Watney is a joker and an optimist, so when you read the book, these are the things that stand out most. However, in the movie we see Watney outside of his recordings, and he is (obviously) not as cool with his situation as he makes it seem in his logs. This makes the movie less lighthearted than the book, but on the whole, it is still quite funny.

What I really enjoy about movies based on books like the Martian, is that they visualise a bunch of things that I read in the book but couldn’t quite picture. There’s significantly less thinking to do when watching this movie, whereas when reading the book I constantly had to readjust my mental image of the Mars rover and the Hab, based on either new information, or information that wasn’t relevant before and I thus forgot to take into account.

The cast of this movie is great. Definitely a good movie to watch if you want to feel Hopeful™ about humanity coming together for a common goal. Something we could all use these days!

In one sentence: The Martian is worth watching, but I feel it loses a lot of what makes the book special.

The book – told almost exclusively through the protagonist Watney’s logs – is relentlessly optimistic, and very detailed on what Watney is doing. The book even brings you the (as I understand it, moderately accurate) minutiae of the chemistry and physics of the problems threatening Watney’s life, and his plans to deal with them.

Regardless of the accuracy of the science, this style of writing gives you insights into the challenges of space missions and the way astronauts need to think. This is a unique approach to a sci-fi novel and it has changed the way I view a genre I have been reading since before I was ten years old.

The movie… is just another Hollywood space movie. It looks good. It gets feelsy. It follows the expected patterns. There is no runtime to go into an appreciable amount of detail on any of the clever solutions Watney comes up with, nor would Hollywood expect their audience to understand or be engaged.

So instead of getting to think along with Watney and his clever solutions as we do in the book, we watch as a smart astronaut solves a number of half-way explained problems, and secures his survival with no more than a few hiccups along the way.

Perhaps partly because I already knew how the story was going to end, I didn’t feel the same tension I did reading the book. And at the same time that the movie presents Watney’s accomplishments as much more of a smooth ride, it also loses some of the upbeat humour of Watney’s logs in the book.

I am very much measuring the movie against the yardstick of the book, and that is probably because aside from its tone and the constraints of a movie runtime, Ridley Scott’s The Martian is actually a very faithful adaptation of the book.

If I could have rated the movie not as an adaptation but as an independent piece of media, without having read the book first, I might have rated it higher for making an honest attempt at showing us a plausible, powerful image of what a Mars-mission in the not too distant future could look like. From that perspective, The Martian actually strays pretty far from the path a Hollywood blockbuster is expected to take.

As a result, I feel that especially for people who have not read the book, The Martian is very much worth watching. It’s just… the book is a lot better!

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