The movie, in 3D, was visually stunning and the extra dimension added layers to the CGI of Mars. I was so immersed that I only noticed the 3D at certain heightened moments, one in particular when snow was falling in front of onlookers on earth. I was fully engrossed.
I read reviews of “The Martian” where some people expressed disappointment that the movie was a departure from the book. Considering the volume of twists and turns (along with explanations of why certain things were tough on Mars and how Watney, the main character played by Matt Damon, solved the problems) it would have been impossible to actually fit all of them in with satisfactory explanations or narration.
I am guilty of wishing the movie had more exposition like the book, but am more forgiving than some because I was focused on seeing how the movie adapted Watney overcoming two specific challenges. First, when he lost radio contact after frying the Pathfinder’s circuits by letting the electrostatic buildup of the drill he was using discharge when he touched it to the metal table on which the Pathfinder sat. He worked tirelessly, driving for weeks to go find it, bring it back, get the radio working, and set up a communication system, to have it lost with one simple misstep. It would have been devastating to lose communications after working so hard to get them and once again be alone millions of miles away.
The second point that I wanted to see was when Watney (according to the book) figured out that a sandstorm was pending to disrupt, if not end, his trip to his escape rocket. He was driving (again without any radio communication because in the book he had already fried the Pathfinder) and realized that a sandstorm was starting. The particles on Mars’s surface are very fine and the human eye would not be able to see them stirring up high in the atmosphere until it was too late to turn around (he would be enveloped in the storm without enough light to power his vehicle to escape). But Watney understood he was in a sandstorm because his solar cells were receiving less of a charge, and so adjusted his course to avoid the heart of the storm. This point, including the fact that he was without radio, was a moment of truth for both Watney and the reader.
The truth is that nature is unforgiving and continues despite the potential damage to us, or to the protagonist. Watney figured this out and avoided his demise at the hands the unrelenting challenges of his ordeal, and the new take on the archetypal narrative of man vs wild (the wildest wild of being on another planet) was what I loved.
The movie showed some of this, but mostly showed the endurance and spirit of people. Not just Watney, who cleverly, cheekily, and sarcastically solved problems and kept himself upbeat, but also NASA and the Chinese Space Agency cooperating when they didn’t have to. For those who prefer to keep true to the book, this was mildly addressed at the end of the movie with a Chinese astronaut being shown on the next Ares mission, which according to the book was the bargaining chip that NASA had when convincing the Chinese to participate in the resupply/rescue mission.
Many people loved this movie; it was easy to see why. It was an adventurers dream, beautiful, and ended heroically in upbeat fashion. I read a lot of the positive reviews to get to the negative ones. The detractors claimed, with good reason, that the movie didn’t challenge the viewer like the book did. The book explained the problems and the solutions and made me question whether Watney could survive. This uncertainty drew me deeper into the story. The negative critics never suggested how to add all of these elements into the film without making it into a four-hour marathon.
All things considered, please go see The Martian! You will enjoy it. It doesn’t match the book turn-for-turn and may let the characters off the hook a little bit because it doesn’t develop to the depth that the book does, but that is a function of hundreds of pages that the reader is alone to interpret and invest in. The movie does this for us and lays it all out there.
Putting this all into perspective, the tale of The Martian is an adventure well told.
Guest post from the desk of Albert Greenhut, Director of Operations, Engineered Materials, Inc.