A review of “The Martian”, or why books are better than the movie adaptations…

I’ll admit it’s been a while since my last movie review. The simple truth was that I haven’t seen a movie recent that I felt writing about. I am not even sure I saw a movie since the horrible “Fantastic Four” reboot (to which they are still planning a sequel! what a bunch of idiots…). Having seen “The martian” recently, I have finally something to write about that I feel is “important” (in the sense that this is really bothering me and I need to rant at length about it).

/!\ Spoilers ahead /!\

Let us first talk on the subject of movie adaptation of books. While there are some notable exceptions, like the “Lord of the Ring” movies and the first few “Harry Potter” movies, book adaptations usually aren’t as good as their source material. They cut characters (Peeves never appears in any Harry Potter movies despite being a relatively important character), important details are missing (in the Hunger Games, Peeta loses a leg and the feral beasts are the mutated bodies of the dead tributes) even entire chapters disappear (Harry Potter movies Five and Six for example) or sometimes there is a hefty “artistic license” at play (Half the stuff in the Hobbit movies is not in the book). There seem to be a gray area for movies based on Comic books since they usually don’t follow story line of specific printed issues but rather loosely based on the characters.

When you read a book, you are given a specific sequence of events and a specific cast of characters. Depending on the length of a given book, a “proper” movie adaptation can be tricky. Most people wouldn’t want to watch a 5 hour long epic. Something like “Battlefield Earth”, which is over a thousand pages long, had a terrible adaptation. That probably why Game of thrones is a TV show, gives you more time to get everything right in watchable packets (though I heard from some of the die hard fans of the book that the TV show doesn’t get everything quite right). The Martian is not a very long book, it’s only 360 and some pages long. I read it in a single day and I’m dyslexic. It has a simple story, few characters, and is quite funny. What could possibly go wrong?

As it turns out, a couple important things. They don’t get major details right and several major events from the book don’t happen in the film.

First off, lots of missing important details. In the book, each crew member has two suits: a light fiber flight suit and heavier EVA suit. This allowed Mark Watney, the main character, to do several important things. One of the suit get used as a water storage container, another is used a spare in case of accidents, and so on. In the movie, they crew only have one type of suit per crew, and the spare suits are only briefly seen despite being hugely important in the book! Another glaring issue are the two rovers. In the book, both rover remain operational after the initial event that strands the hero on mars, but in the movie, one of the rover is almost destroyed! The specification of the rovers are also wrong. In the book the battery are on the underside of the rover and it has no bed to carry cargo. In the movie, It’s like a pickup truck! It even has crane that doesn’t exist in the book and the battery is on top of the rover!  The rovers had air-locks in the book that are none existant in the movie!

This list could go on forever to be honest. The number and the size of the solar panels are wrong, the color of the flag for the RTG is wrong, there is no mention of all the ebooks brought by one of the crew, the pop up tents aren’t in the film, the log dates are wrong and blah blah blah…

One of the cool aspect of the book was the scientific explanation of what the character did, though I can’t verify how accurate they were. It made the book feel more believable because things made sense. Almost none of the science stuff made it to the movie. Another thing that didn’t quite make the cut is Watney swearing. In the book, there is quite a bit of swearing but because America has idiotic censorship laws on swearing, they only say “f*ck” twice in the movie to keep it PG-13. Bullshit isn’t it?

The biggest gripe I have with this movie over ever is that they cut out four rather important events from the book! During his extended stay on Mars, there are five big incidents that happen but only one of them is actually in the film! Why? it’s not like they were running out of time! The movie is not even two and a half hours, they could have easily trimmed so of the less important stuff out, like the crew moving around in zero G (which, incidentally, was laughably bad), and add the actually important stuff! Imagine if the first harry potter film didn’t include the troll, the dark forest, and the chess game at the end. It’s that bad! They even change the ending to make it more dramatic than it already was in the book!

Finally, there is a subtle error in the film. toward the end, we get shot from around the globe (read Northern hemisphere) as people watch live the rescue attempt. One of those shot happens to be in Beijing and it’s snowing and people are wearing big winter jackets. We can therefore conclude that it is currently winter in the northern hemisphere. However in every other shot (London and New York City), It is clearly not winter. People are not wearing heavy jackets, their breath is not condensing at all and there is no snow to be seen. That is not possible.

Alright, this post is running long so I’ll wrap things up. Is the Martian a good movie adaptation of the book? No, there are way too many things wrong. But is it a good movie on its own merit? Yes. Everything within the movie is coherent and it is perfectly enjoyable even if you did not read the book. The special effects are pretty good, there are some really cool rendering of the martian surface, and the story is light-hearted and funny. They even added a bit of an epilogue, which I felt was missing from the book. In short: good movie, but I do however recommend reading the book, for it is far superior.

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