‘The Martian’ – book vs. film

One of life’s many joys is to see a book you’ve loved made into a film that does it justice. I had that joy a couple of weekends back, when I watched the DVD version of the film based on Andy Weir’s The Martian, which I’d already read and loved last year. The film is awesome – brilliant visuals, great characters, and true to the spirit of the book.

What I want to do now is geek at great length about how the book compares to the film and what I think of the inevitable differences (mostly good, but I have some gripes). This will contain about a billion spoilers and will be in large part incomprehensible to anyone who hasn’t seen the film/read the book (preferably both), so, if this is something you were planning to read and/or watch, this might be a post to bookmark for a later date.

Cutting stuff out

The most obvious difference, of course, was that a huge amount of the problem-solving Watney had to do got cut out of the film version; especially when it came to his trek across Mars to get to the Ares 4 MAV, where several chapters’ worth of complicated problem-solving plus two life-threatening crises all got boiled down to a few minutes’ worth of montages. It was the right call; the filmmakers put in enough to give us the spirit of the book, and trying to duplicate everything would have made the film unmanageably long and much less watchable. But it did have a couple of minor downsides, one of which was that we didn’t really get the emotional impact of Watney’s eventual arrival at the MAV after his incredible journey. I was looking forward to watching the scene of him stumbling out of the rover and jumping about cheering/punching the air/hugging the MAV strut, and instead what we got was pretty much ‘Meh – where’s the “open” button under all this dust.’ Bit of a let-down.

The other problem with cutting out so many of the problems that book-Watney had to overcome was that the whole ‘space pirate’ thing didn’t make any sense. The reason that worked in the book was because Watney had accidentally fried the Pathfinder link and cut off contact, thus leaving him in a situation where (among far more serious implications) NASA couldn’t give him a specific instruction to board the MAV. In the film, it’s clear he maintains contact (he even jokes about the space pirate thing with Mindy), so that whole argument doesn’t work; NASA could give him instructions to board at any time, and no doubt would. I guess someone just decided that was too cool a bit to cut and left it in despite it having been rendered obsolete.


The retrieval scene

Well done in the main, but here was some stuff I did not like.

First off, I….. don’t believe they actually went with the Iron Man stunt. I do not believe they actually did that. I remember reading the book and thinking that in the film they’d probably go with the ‘cut my tether loose’ bit, but the Iron Man stunt?? You have got to be kidding me.

Guys. I get it looks really cool on film. And, yeah, it’s sort of cool to know that in one of Mark Watney’s fictional incarnations he got to do the Iron Man thing. But it’s just suspending disbelief too far. The theme throughout the story has been that, if we start with the premise that we actually have the science to go to Mars – and, OK, if we suspend a few scientific details along the way – then things could actually happen that way. A person who was incredibly smart, knowledgeable and resourceful – in other words, the sort of people NASA picks and trains for missions – could have done the stuff that Mark Watney did. The Iron Man stunt pushes that too far. Sorry, but there is simply no way that you would achieve that kind of accuracy the first time you tried to fly around using air from a hole in your spacesuit glove. Especially when you take into account that Watney was meant to have fractured ribs at that point. And acceleration sickness from having just accelerated faster than any other astronaut in the history of space travel. If Watney tried that he would have missed Lewis completely and flown off into space. If he was incredibly lucky he might have managed to hit the spaceship. No freakin’ way would he have actually targeted well enough to make it to Lewis.

So, yeah, I get that it was a great scene from the watchability point of view. But it blew my willing suspension of disbelief all to hell and gone, and left me feeling that, when it came to the choice between a good visual moment and actual credibility, the credibility lost.

The other bit I didn’t like there was Lewis’s last-minute decision to go out for the retrieval instead of Beck. I get that it was meant to be some kind of expiation for having left him there – the ‘I left him there, I’ll get him’ thing or whatever the quote was – but it actually detracted from Lewis’s character, because it was such a bad decision. I mean, the reason Beck was doing the retrieval in the first place was because he was the specialist, the one who’d trained for it. And Vogel was the backup because he’d trained for it. So Lewis would simply not have been the best person around to do this job. Not only that, but she makes the decision at the last minute in a rush, which is not a great way to make any decision.

So, when the film-makers portray her as suddenly deciding to go out instead of Beck… they’re portraying her as making a crappy decision for emotional reasons. That does not fit well with Lewis’s character, and detracts from the portrayal of her by Weir and elsewhere in the film as a superb commander. I feel like what Goddard and Scott were doing with this one was falling for the temptation to score some cheap emotional point rather than actually staying true to Lewis’s character, and that wasn’t something I’m too happy with.


The epilogue scene

I liked this. A lot. I’d actually been thinking that the book could have used a brief ‘this is how they all ended up’ epilogue; nothing lengthy, just the same sort of thing that Tom McNab did in Flanagan’s Run. So it was cool to see that in the film.

I have one gripe, however. What the hell was with Watney wearing glasses in the lecture scene? Why would NASA have let anyone go off into space, let alone on a Martian mission, with less than 20/20 eyesight? After all, you can’t wear glasses in a spacesuit, and it would have caused all kinds of problems for Watney if he’d been either short- or long-sighted when he was stuck on Mars. Am I missing something here, or were the filmmakers just so caught up in the Hollywood ‘lecturing = glasses’ imagery that they didn’t stop to think?


A few other random points

  • Vogel wasn’t properly German in the film. He was American German. I thought German German worked better.
  • The Hermes was way too big. Guys, this was not supposed to be flippin’ 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was supposed to be what a spaceship to Mars would (will?) actually look like if NASA built one. There should have been just barely enough space for everything. Oh, well – the scenes of the astronauts float/swimming along the corridors were great watching.
  • The film didn’t have the scene in which Johanssen explains the other crew members’ grisly plan for her survival to her horrified father. Which is kind of a shame as it was a good scene, but maybe it didn’t make the ’12’ rating.
  • On that note, I’m assuming the ’12’ rating is why we didn’t get the “I’m pretty much fucked” line from Watney, which is a shame as the scene did need it; let’s face it, it’s what he’d have said. Oh, well, fair dos; it wouldn’t be worth losing three years’ worth of potential watchers over. And, on the plus side, the filmmakers made an amusing job later on of having to work around uttering the word ‘fuck’ in his first conversation with NASA, so that one actually worked better for having the F-word embargo.
  • Aaaaand probably also where we lost the ‘million-mile high club’ line, which was another one I was sorry to lose. But we did get a sweet scene of Beck and Johannsen at the end with their new baby, so that was good.
  • On the flip side, the film had the superbly funny scene with Rich Purnell in the Project Elrond meeting. One awesome bit that the film added.
  • Oh, yes, and speaking of Project Elrond… I have to admit I missed the Easter egg there (been a while since I saw LotR and in any case I’m hopeless at remembering who did what in which film), but fortunately my husband is more on the ball and clued me in. Brilliant! I wondered if they’d actually cast Sean Bean on purpose for that reason, but considering they almost didn’t put the ‘Council of Elrond’ line in at all I guess not. Still, that was a great one. Applause and kudos, guys.


Ahhhhhh…. I think that’s me geeked out for now. Anyone got any other thoughts on how the book and movie compared?


  1. Steve Cuthbertson says

    I liked the end of the original web-based novel, before it was properly published and polished.

    “[Watney] took a deep breath of the fresh air and watched the people go by.
    “Hey, I know you!” Came a voice from behind. A young boy had strayed from his mother. “You’re Mark Watney!”
    “Sweetie,” the boy’s mom said, embarrassed. “Don’t bother people like that.”
    “It’s ok,” Watney shrugged.
    “You went to Mars!” The boy said, his eyes wide with awe.
    “Sure did,” Watney said. “Almost didn’t make it back.”
    “I know!” Said the boy. “That was awesome!”
    “Sweetie!” The mom scolded. “That’s rude.”
    “So Mr. Watney,” the boy said, “If you could go to Mars again, like, if there was another mission and they wanted you to go, would you go?”
    Watney scowled at him. “You out of your fucking mind?””

  2. Dr Sarah says

    @Steve: Like it! Thanks – never saw that before! But I see why Weir snipped it; it’s kind of anticlimatic, and doesn’t really tell us anything other than that Watney got back safely.

  3. Dr Sarah says

    @StonedRanger: Wow, didn’t know that! Thank you – now I feel much better about that bit!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.