'The Martian' - Book or Film?

'The Martian' - Book or Film?

When books are portrayed through the big screen, bibliophiles often express their contempt towards the mere premise of it, even before its release. This view of course, is not without merit - aside from a few anomalies, film adaptations tend to be weaker than their original books.

Andy Weir's 'The Martian' received praising reviews when it was released as a book last year. Hugh Howey, author of the Sunday Times bestseller, Wool, called The Martian, "The best book I've read in ages", whilst Publishers Weekly called it "one of the best survival stories you'll ever read". Such complimentary reviews leave movie reviewers cautious in their approach towards this year's film adaptation. It thereby begs the question, how does the book compare to its film counterpart?

For those unfamiliar with 'The Martian', the plot is simple: during a mission to Mars, Ares III encounters an intense storm, separating Mark Watney from the rest of his team. Unable to find Watney, Commander Melissa Lewis makes the decision to return to earth on the presumption that Watney has perished in the storm. Unbeknown to the Commander and her team, Watney is still alive and is left to his own survival. Without contact with NASA, Watney has to survive three years on the planet before Ares IV returns, with only the scarce resources left behind by the team.

Having read the book, my initial reaction is that obviously, the book is much more detailed than the film, which is simply a watered-down version of the novel. However, this is true for most film adaptations, due to the standard length of a film and the sheer amount of content one can pump into a novel, so it would be harsh to criticise The Martian for this.

Where the novel exceeds is through its depiction of Watney. Written as diary entries, the reader feels a personal connection with Watney as he explains his intimate thoughts and experiences in the first person. Although Watney is clearly a scientific genius, his characteristics make him relatable. He is witty and sharp, as well as being technically knowledgeable. Above all, he is a vulnerable human being, which all of us can sympathise with. Matt Damon, who stars as Watney on the big screen, pulls off a convincing performance of Watney, but the film's representation of the character is only the tip of the iceberg, compared to the book. Although this is understandably down to time constraints, it is a shame that the film audience won't truly appreciate how deeply engaging Watney's complex character is. This also isn't helped by the 12A age rating, which censors the amount of expletives - not that Watney is a foul mouthed character, but Weir's tasteful use of Watney's expletives in the book garnishes his frustrations with humour, resulting in a much more developed character.

Nevertheless, considering the time restraints of a film, Damon certainly represents Watney well. The other characters in the book are also played convincingly, although, whilst reading The Martian, I presumed that Mindy Park was of Korean ethnicity and Vincent Kapoor was of either Indian or Pakistani ethnicity, but whatever. Sean Bean is particularly memorable as Mitch Henderson, the flight director who exerts morality over rationality, as the audience easily empathises with him.

The other great strength of The Martian as a novel is its exciting, nail-biting intensity. Watney's futile situation being the backdrop to the story makes every development exciting and nerve-wrecking. Fortunately, Ridley Scott, whose works include Alien, Blade Runner, Black Hawk Down, Hannibal, Gladiator and Promethus, has managed to reflect the thrilling nature of the book on the big screen. Incredible special effects and powerful directing transform the unimaginable into realistic imagery.

Weir was also highly commended on his scientific accuracy. Throughout the book, Watney remains a realistic character due to his scientific prowess, which resolves many of his situations. Weir explicitly explains Watney's scientific processes and thoughts in the book; I'm sure those who love their science would certainly get a kick out of it. Again, due to the film's length, many of the scientific specifics are removed from the film. However, the watered down science isn't too much of a loss for the average viewer. Indeed, I often felt perplexed by many of the scientific processes in the book.

The Martian was undoubtedly one of the best books of last year. Weir's writing is convincing, engaging and thrilling. Whilst Scott's transformation of Weir's novel is lacking in detail, it serves well as an overall portrayal of the story and excels in captivating the audience. Hopefully more films will do justice to their original novel counterparts in the future, as Scott has successfully done!


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