Thoughts on the movie:
I know some readers consider this a form of heresy, but I actually liked the movie quite a bit more than the book. I liked the book, but I really enjoyed the movie. I think this film adaptation does a great job of preserving what worked really well about the book but also improving on its shortcomings.
As with the original novel, the movie is a great blend of science fiction and action. It’s a 2.5 hour movie, but it never feels long. Because it is a different medium, the visual nature of film also made it easier for mechanically-inept me to understand some of what was happening. Despite the detailed explanations in the book, I never could figure out the communication aspect he was working on. That was very easy to understand in the movie. The movie also blended the original logs into the film but also did a less clunky job of it since they formed just a small part of the movie and were not the primary means of telling the story.
Before watching this movie, I knew that Matt Damon starred as Watney and had no idea about anyone else in the cast. Damon is great as Watney–he’s likable and funny and probably captures the human side of this story much better than the novel does.
But I think the movie gives an even greater boost for the NASA staff and Watney’s other crew members. The artificial-ness and blandness of the dialogue was largely removed, and when you have folks like Jeff Daniels, Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Sean Bean (in a role where his life is not in mortal danger!) rounding out your cast, the supporting characters have a lot more personality and depth automatically. I did think Donald Glover was miscast in his role–he honestly seemed to have wandered in from an entirely different movie–but that was still an improvement on his character in the book for me. (Said character was probably the poster child for ludicrously unbelievable eccentric genius stereotypes.)
The only issue I had with the movie–but it existed in the book too–was I thought it took an awfully long time for the geniuses at NASA to figure out how they were going to rescue Watney. I actually figured out two of the solutions for how to extract him long before they were broached in the book/movie and just assumed that people who worked for NASA were smarter than me and weren’t doing that for good reasons.
Well, you can imagine how superior and smug I was feeling when they ended up doing exactly what I was thinking to begin with. I may have even briefly considered re-inventing myself as a space logician for hire and offering my services as a troubleshooter for them until the internet informed that, yeah, that plan would have been NASA’s first idea too. That’s probably for the best because if they handed me a calculator with a cover on my first day of work, I would have been helpless.
I should also add that I watched the movie with my family, none of whom read the book, and they all loved it too. Even my X-Files loving brother, who initially had assumed the movie was going to be about literal aliens and was bitterly disappointed that that was not the case, conceded that it was a really good movie after all. I can’t think of a more ringing endorsement.
The verdict: They’re both good, but I liked the movie better.
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Did you like The Martian? How do you feel about epistolary novels? Have you ever been defeated by a calculator? Tell us in the comments!