The Martian was great, but was it better than the book?

There’s nothing more irritating than seeing an awesome movie only to be told, “meh – the book was better.” Ridley Scott’s latest – the Martian has been released not all that far behind Andy Weir’s wildly popular novel of the same name and it really has to be questioned – is it better than the novel?

The answer is yes and no.

To be fair – the movie is a pretty bloody good interpretation of the book. While of course it’s impossible to take most books and recreate that experience 1:1 on the big screen – some movies still nail it while others miss the mark. In order to create a convincing book to movie translation, beyond the obvious things such as good casting – it’s critical to understand the real core of what makes a particular book so good – and then try and capture that on the big screen.

An example of this is Mao’s Last Dancer – an absolutely beautiful book about a poor Chinese boys rise from nothing to stardom. Halfway through the book, after years of poverty and rigorous training at a ruthless Chinese ballet school – Li Cunxin defects to America, basically sacrificing his entire culture to follow his dreams. The movie effectively begins at his coming to America Crocodile Dundee style, and only very basically goes back to his childhood and all-important bonds with his parents and siblings. Meh!

The Martian on the other hand is a visual splendor. If there was one thing I really wanted to visualise whilst reading the book, it was the various NASA hardware and equipment on display – everything from the MAV’s to the Rovers to the actual Hab he was living in and the canvas used to patch it. It was so awesome to see all of these things in reality, and in some cases such as the patched hab canvas, it wasn’t at all what I expected.

When I first read the Martian after being adamantly told to do so by a couple of friends (aka harassed!) – I thoroughly enjoyed it. It wasn’t just your typical Robinson Crusoe in space, here was Mark Watney, a super-intelligent, super-interesting character. He’s placed in an unimaginable situation, met with disaster after disaster and his solution? To simply work through them one step at a time and get on with it. The character displays a rare sense of positivity throughout where he breaks down each problem and applies science to find a solution. All of this is packaged in some of the most superb witty comedy.

When I learned a movie was being made and Matt Damon was to play Mark Watney, I initially didn’t think it would work, but then having seen Matt Damon play the psychologically damaged astronaut in Interstellar-  I knew it would be perfect. And it was. The rest of the cast was also spot on but the real star of the show is Mark and if he was poorly cast it simply wouldnt work. I was also relieved to read prior to seeing the movie that the humour would be contained throughout but I think that it didn’t pull it off as well as it did in the book.

Likewise – while the movie did an admirable job of relating some serious scientific concepts in a very limited amount of time, actually reading it made it a lot more understandable. Some of the seriously complicated elements such as the fuel conversions into water and so on I felt that I understood them a lot better having read the book, and therefore it was of more value to me.

I also didn’t really find myself really worrying about Mark at any point – possibly because i knew how it would all resolve. Various things like his extensive testing and trialing of the Rovers were seriously cut down, and his epic journey to the Ares 4 site really didn’t seem like much at all, where in the book this was a massive and dangerous undertaking. In fact they also cut out a great scene where a huge storm was approaching, forcing him to go around the edge of a massive crater (and losing precious time) – with NASA unsure if he’d seen it. And then another with the Rover basically flipping and becoming damage as he descended into the crater.

BUT – this is all understandable. I can see where that storm in particular would have been superfluous on the screen – but still, it added a large amount of suspense – something I feel was lacking from the movie.

But now I’m just being nitpicky. The movie was great. The book was great – do yourself a favour and go see the movie AND read the book. I reccomend book first – but do try and catch this on the big screen – those amazing red vistas and beautiful space shots just won’t have the same effect on your own TV.

Have you seen it? What did you think?

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