Firstly, I want to say that I loved The Martian – the book and the movie. The way that Andy Weir writes a story is something special. Science Fiction can be challenging to get through (particularly when you don’t know a whole ton about science), but he makes it easy to understand and fun to experience – even in dire circumstances.
The way the book and movie start are different. This is something that I noticed all the way along, that the sequence of events is slightly altered. The way that the book started was more interesting, I’m just going to open with that. We start with Mark, already on Mars and already pretty much screwed… yeah it was a great way to grab the readers attention. The film starts with beautiful shots of “mars” and the actual moment of Mark being lost on the planet. While I understand why the film did it this way, it felt like we lost something.
That leads me into the next thing that I noticed. The film took a more sombre tone. I know it’s quite a serious situation, but the book had more “gallows humour” for lack of a better word. Mark was funnier in the book, and in the film Matt Damon (who did do a great job) his delivery was a lot more dry, and there was more relatable moments of frustration… that led to a bit of a loss in the humour that Andy writes into his stories.
The film does make things feel a LOT more high stakes. There’s something different about a film being able to use visual, audio and acting elements to bring up the level of life and death! This was pretty great, but there are some downsides too. In order to fit everything into the span of a film, we lost a ton of stuff. Mostly, it was Mark’s explanations of what he was doing, and the little things that went wrong and right. Transforming the Rover, for example, was a much shorter process in the film than it was in the book. The downside to seeing things in a visual medium was the mini operation Mark had to do on himself… yeah that was horrifying.
Understandably, a movie that focusses very heavily on a guy who is basically alone on a deserted planet is going to be more interesting if we focus a bit more screen time on the people who are trying to bring him home. It also adds more lines to those actors… so that’s good I suppose. This meant that because the book focussed a lot more on Mark, we got a better idea to the isolation that he was experiencing. We spent so much time with him, that it was evidently clear of how alone he really was. In focussing on more with NASA and the time to get him back, we filled a lot of empty space – in terms of what we get to see as the movie going audience – but we lost a lot of Mark. He felt less of the main character, and more of an ensemble player.
One thing that really irritated me in the film was the constant saying what they were typing to each other…. often whilst we see the words appearing at the exact same time. Yeah, that was dumb. I think that could have been done better, but I do understand why they did it. The only way they could communicate with Mark was through written medium, it was just a very frustrating visual.
Finally, the ending. The book and movie did differ in terms of where Mark ended up at the end of the book. While the book took a more understandable and realistic psychological ending, the film took the “happy ending” route. In the book, Mark doesn’t like to leave his house, he is constantly checked by doctors because he basically will end up with cancer at some point, and is VERY adamant about no more potatoes.. ever again. While in the film, he ends up teaching other astronaut hopefuls and doesn’t seem to really have that many after affects. While I understand this Hollywood style ending decision, I actually liked the more realistic view into how Mark’s journey would have ended. While the actual moments on Mars were filled with his humour in surviving, now that he was back safe on Earth, he would have more chance to fully go into how he felt and how that is going to affect his life moving forward.
So, which was better? The book or the film? I don’t think if you’ve read this post from start to finish that it will be a surprise to hear that I preferred the book. The humour, the focus and the start to finish themes just worked a bit better for me. While the film was still good, and had amazing points in its favour, the book just had to win out. There was just so much more that it was able to do that the film couldn’t capture.
See You in the Adventures!