Book vs Movie: The Martian

martian book cover vs book cover
They changed the book cover of The Martian to Matt Damon’s face and his eyes stare into your soul as you read the book, it’s a little unnerving. I never pictured Damon as main character Mark Watney during my read, despite having his face shoved down my throat by the cover, but I enjoyed his performance in the movie. I usually don’t read books like this, but I enjoyed the fiction and sort of non fiction fusion that the story tells. The book was an easy read as most of story is told through Watney self narrating his thought process on how to survive on Mars. The Martian is basically a mix between survivor tv shows, with Mars being the tough terrain, and some Myth Buster explosive science thrown in. I felt like I learned something reading this book.

Matt Damon handled the character well, but too often I was watching Matt Damon trapped on Mars instead of the Mark Watney in The Martian. An actor of his caliber made me grow attached and feel his raw emotion as he tries to survive on Mars. His performance put me on the verge of tears even though I read the book prior to the movie and knew he would survive. The humor of the character felt a little forced at times in the book, but Damon made it feel more natural. Humor was a huge reason the audience grew attached to Watney, so that was a key trait to the character. Damon’s character appeared to lose a ton of weight through the course of the movie, but apparently that was just CGI. It’s okay Matt, I’ll give you a slide, you did a good job. Just stay off the book cover next time.

I pictured Mindy Park and Vincent Kapoor as different races than they were portrayed in the movie, but otherwise the casting was pretty superb. Oscar winner Chiwetel Ejiofor was one of the many supporting characters along with standout performances from Jeff Daniels and Michael Peña, there were no weak links in this cast; although it was almost too good, many characters were stretched thin. Kristen Wiig didn’t really have anything memorable in the movie and seeing as Chastain’s role was beefed up, it would have been nice if Wiig would have gotten one good line. They took out Sean Bean’s one good line from the books as well, but having him in the Council of Elrond, and I honestly believe he was cast in this movie for this little inside joke, was absolutely worth it. Donald Glover, rapper Childish Gambino, and Sebastian Stan, the Winter Solider, were basically side characters, but it was easy to recognize and enjoy their performances. I’m not a fan of Kate Mara, hated her character in House of Cards, but she was good in her minor role here. Did all these actors love the book? Why did they all decide to do this movie? There may have been a little less development with Watney’s fellow crew members, but there wasn’t too much of that in the book anyway. The story is heavily dominated by Mark in the book, but it seems split between Mark/NASA/and his crew in the movie.

crew of the...of the damon crew

I’m impressed with what Ridley Scott did with the movie adaption of the book because for the most part it’s pretty loyal to the source material. The book wasn’t the easiest to adapt for the big screen because there’s a ton of self narrating and complex science explanations that work better with a written explanation. There’s practically no love story at all, a staple in Hollywood Blockbuster movies, and there’s a diverse and large cast that would be a problem for most directors to handle. That wasn’t the case here as everything seemed to work and translate on screen. The story may have worked better as a movie, but there were a few key changes from the book that I felt should have remained in the final cut.

Movie vs Book Differences
The movie opts to start with the crew forced to maroon Watney on Mars instead of the reader discovering his circumstances later through flashback. Chronologically it makes sense to do this at the start of the movie instead of later via flashback so I thought the change was more than justified.

The exchange between Sean Bean’s character Mitch and Jeff Daniel’s character Teddy in the movie after “someone” informs the crew of the Rick Purnell maneuver to rescue Watney was oddly different. I can’t think of any reason for the change as it diminishes Bean’s character. Here’s how the exchange starts.
“I guess everyone’s off the hook then!” Mitch smiled. Can’t fire people for enacting NASA policy.”
“You could have killed the whole crew.” Teddy countered.
“Whoever gave them the maneuver,” Mitch said, “only passed along the information.”
Here’s how that conversation played out in the movie.
Teddy – “I expect your resignation after this is all over.”
Mitch – “…Okay.”
Here’s how it went down in the book.
“If I can ever prove it was you, I’ll find a way to fire you for it,” Teddy warned.
“Sure.” Mitch shrugged. “But if I wasn’t willing to take risks to save lives, I’d, well, I guess I’d be you.”
A great and logical response to how he was acting before being threatened to lose his job. Instead in the movie Mitch caves in so easily and loses out on his best line in the books. A pretty unnecessary and, I feel, unwarranted change.

three characters looking at something

In the books there’s one more obstacle Watney has to overcome during his trip to the Ares IV launch site that is dismissed. There was a sand storm that would block out his solar panels, thus his rover wouldn’t have enough power to make it to the site. They ditched this to shorten the movie length, an already monstrous 2 hours and 22 minutes, and replaced it with a more thrilling climatic ending scene.

During the final rescue I can understand having Captain Lewis being the one to go out and save Watney. It makes sense and gives Jessica Chastain more screen time. I didn’t like how Watney actually went ahead with the Ironman suggestion and it working out. That plan was a joke in the books, but it felt like tension overkill for the climax of the movie. Again, putting emphasis on the captain rescuing Watney when she felt guilty for leaving him there was a good change, cutting a hole in his suit to Ironman propulsion back to the shuttle actually being used and working was not good.

The book ends with Watney getting rescued, but the movie goes a little bit into the lives of the crew and the characters after his return to Earth. I felt his rescue was a fine place to end in the books, but I enjoyed how the movie extended the ending as well. Both mediums gave me closure, but the movie’s ending was a little more satisfying, albeit having one big flaw.

Negative Epilogue Aspects
Having Martinez on the Ares V launch into space. What?! The crew mutinied! They went against NASA’s orders and the captain explicitly stated none of them would ever go up into space again. The crew joked that being in space for over 900 days would be enough space for a lifetime, but then Martinez is on the next possible mission to Mars? He had a family, his wife and son missed him, and he missed his son growing up for 900 days, wouldn’t he choose to stay with them? Even if the plan worked and NASA told the media that this was always the plan, wouldn’t Teddy make sure that none of them went into space ever again?! This minor detail infuriated me more than it should have.

Positive Epilogue Aspects
Having the Chinese astronaut on the Ares V mission was a nod to NASA repaying China donating the Taiyang Shen to resupply the crew earlier.
Beck and Beth having a baby and watching the Ares V launch from the hospital room.
The Day 1 notification on Earth after seeing all the Sol notifications when he was on Mars. Even though he’s been on Earth for more than a day, maybe it was Day 1 of him teaching?
I loved the little motivational speech Watney gave to his class.
motivational martian
Usually I lean towards the book in these debates, but after seeing the movie I’m not so sure. The book went into more detail on how Watney used science to survive on Mars, but the movie had fantastic visuals, superb acting, and a heavily inspired disco themed soundtrack that worked. Both mediums were funny, with character development and better lines in the book, but seeing Mars landscapes and characters moving in zero gravity was something more visually stimulating than simply reading about. I would rather rewatch the movie than read the book again. The movie does the book justice, but I may have enjoyed reading the book more than watching the movie.

“I Will Survive” may have been the perfect song choice to close on.
1. Much like the title, he did survive
2. “And now you’re back, from outer space.” Works even better with the movie context
3. It was a disco song


2 thoughts on “Book vs Movie: The Martian

  1. It’s a rare thing these days that Hollywood takes a risk to make a movie close to a book. I didn’t read that book even though I have it in my shelve but I’m just too busy (I have over 200 other books still to read :P). But if it’s that good I put it on schedule – winter is coming ^^
    For me that movie was a redemption for Ridley Scott since Prometheus was a disaster movie – at least for me. I watched an interview with Neil DeGrasse Tyson regarding the actual science used in that movie and it was pretty entertaining. Every performance in the movie was great except for Kate Mara, who pulled the same dullness like in the Fanatstic Four movie and I still wonder why she gets hired.
    I just imagine if Hollywood had done the WWZ movie like it was in the book. A pretty good example of how not to translate a book into a movie.

    • I have so many books on the shelf I should read.
      Prometheus was one of the worst movies plot wise I’ve ever seen. I read that the studio switched writers halfway through and that the project was a mess, it really shows.
      The Martian was good, both the movie and the book. I hope that WWZ eventually becomes a tv series, that was the only way it could be done faithfully. The movie was something entirely different than the book, but used the name for bigger appeal.

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