So I did a huge no-no this year. I watched a movie based on a book BEFORE I READ THE BOOK! I’m still dodging the literary police force.
While this is normally something I’d never do I am glad that I did it. I hadn’t heard anything about “The Martian” by Andy Weir before I watched the movie and seeing the movie prompted me to read the book. Even better, both movie and book were amazing!
Now of course the question that follows is what was different or similar between the book and the movie. I’m ignoring answering the “Which did you like better” question because its been done. I feel as if normally comparisons between the paperback and film versions of a story tend to be negative towards one side or the other. I am happy to say this will not be the case.
The book and the movie were close to identical. I was very surprised by this because it is often very rare, a fact that tends to irk fans. I wonder if it was a demand by Weir or a decision by the screenwriting team. It was a good choice either way because the book was spectacular and I have a feeling that keeping the script close to it its paperback parent helped boost box office numbers.
The main character’s personality was the same in both the movie and the book. And I meant they kept all of it: his sarcastic humor, his little vulgarities, everything. The personalities and relationships of the main character’s crew members stayed the same too. They didn’t even nix the little romance between two of the crew members. I love that!
There are many similarities between film and paper in this case. However because similarities are many and differences are few, I’m choosing to focus on the few I noticed which I believe only worked in favor of both formats.
One major difference was the amount of science described. In the movie, viewers mostly saw the overall gist of what the main character was doing. Lots of science, that’s what he was doing. In contrast, whenever the main character did science in the book he was logging his work in a daily audio journal of sorts. This means viewers got a summary and readers got the details on a LOT of science. It was almost overwhelming but it ended up making the book that much better actually. Due to the fact that the work the main character did was so well described, I can understand why some of those people who likely live under a rock would have believed it was a real story. It was just that well done. Good for you Weir.
(Note: For those of you who actually believed that this was based on a true story you really need to pay a bit more attention to what is going on outside your house.)
Another difference between the two formats was the suspense portrayed to the audience. And it was intense in both cases. When I was in the theater I was clawing at my seat for half the movie. Similarly (though it was a bit more embarassing) when I was reading the book I ended up audibly screaming, sometimes while in public, when something insane happened. One specific example I have is when the airlock chamber blew off the HAB. In the movie, this was sudden and shocking. In the book, the suspense was built. Weir literally put in a written version of the Jaws theme I swear to you. (This may have been the thing that made me scream out loud in a coffee shop.) It was agonizing and that is the mark of an artist.
The last major difference here was in the ending. In the movie, the screenwriters couldn’t resist one last bit of suspense, making the main character and the crew going through some scary stuff to get him onto the main ship and into safety. In the book, the main character simply proposes some of the ideas that the movie actually had him do (I.E. Ironmaning his way to the ship). The written story only has the ship go through one risky maneuver and get him to safety. This ending was much more relaxing. One thing I was say in favor of the movie is that we get a glimpse of the main character and crew back on Earth which is like the epilogue to a suspenseful but happy ending. That I appreciate because it gave the audience in the movie theaters a chance to finally calm down and know that everyone was safe. The book did this just by getting the main character onto the ship.
A last note on the book that I appreciated. Once the main character is safe and seeing his crewmates again, he has a brief moment of introspection. He contemplates his humanity and mortality in a very human way and while there is not much new said here, it is profound simply because of the context in which it was said. Thinking or contemplation of hsi humanity was not something this character did at any other time even while trapped on a barren planet alone which meant it was something of a break in his character. However Weir included this into the story seamlessly an it actually made me tear up a bit which I was NOT expecting from this book.
Wrapping up: Weir is an AMAZING writer and I would love to personally high five every team member of the crew that made “The Martian” into a motion picture.
Nick also wrote a review on The Martian film.