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Page to Screen: The Martian

Updated on October 7, 2015


This page discusses the actual process of adapting the novel's work into a film.

You can read a review on the film and it's merits alone instead if you'd like.

The Film

Released in 2015, the cinematic adaptation of The Martian was written by Drew Goddard and directed by Ridley Scott. It casts Matt Damon as the main character, Mark Watney. This adaptation is very strong, following most of the story to a 'T' while also presenting a kind of epilogue not found in the book.

It has a huge cast of star studded actors as well, featuring Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Donald Glover, as well as others.

The Novel

Written by Andy Weir in 2011, The Martian is a science fiction novel featuring a single astronaut that is left behind under the guise of death by his fellow astronauts during a freak storm on Mars. He must learn how to survive long enough for NASA to send help his way, all while they handle their own public image issue. The book is particuarly praised in writing an interesting and charismatic main character who, while regularly using astro-science jargon that may be unfamiliar to fellow engineers, it's still very engaging to the typical layman reading.

The book cover for The Martian
The book cover for The Martian | Source

The Adaptation

Representation of Minorities
Something the original source did well was represent a large group of people. The crew of the ARES 4 mission were varied, featuring a hispanic and german, and a woman leads the group (without the author or director making much of a fuss about it).

Interestingly, the character Chiwetel Ejiofor plays a very select Indian man in the book. However, this can be attributed to a late actor dropping out of his role. This leads to the slightly significant line change of his character's beliefs (and change of first name). Mindy Park is also played by a blonde when she's hinted at having at least a little Asian heritage.

Dangerous Hydrogen
The first big mistake Watney performs in the book is absent in the film (although there is arguably a small nod to it). When creating water for his garden, Watney fails to account for the oxygen he's breathing (as he does in the film). During one of his journal entries, he's freaking out in the rover because he's realized that the entire Hub is a giant death trap he's unwittingly created. It takes him a lot longer than a quick fix as he does in the film, but considering the condensed time frame, this makes sense.

Flipping the Rover
Another scene in the book where Watney screws up near fatally that doesn't make it into the film. As Watney drives to his new launch site, his vehicle hits some soft sand and practically catapults itself, with its contents, back over front. Watney has to do some manual labor (which he's already fairly weak at this point) to put it upright, as well as collect his supplies that have been strewn about.

Frying out The Communications
Probably my biggest complaint about The Martian film is that it doesn't show the amount of self-inflicted damage Watney puts himself in, making it a little less tense. While drilling holes into the rover before heading out to the launch site, he has to a use a very powerful drill with tons of electricity rushing through it. By accident, he lets the drill lean against the rover. The electricity rushes through the system, completely frying the communications system. At this point, Watney has to improve how to finish customizing the rover as well as drive more blindly across Mars surface while another dust storm threatens to keep him grounded.

The Whole End Sequence
From the part that Watney is rescued aboard the Hermes on is a new addition the film gives to the story. It's implied it's a happy ending but we don't have any proof of Watney becoming a professor or the two crew members making a baby (I don't recall a romantic subplot at all personally). However, there's also the significance in how Watney was rescued. While they did use a bomb, Commander Lewis does not venture out and actually reel Watney in (Foley did that, played by Sebastian Stan), and Watney does not fly like Iron Man through a hole in his sleeve. Still, these scenes do not change the core structure of the story.

The Whole Chinese Subplot
While the film doesn't ignore or try to skip this part of the tale, it doesn't elaborate on it as the book does. In the film after the first rushed probe was launched and failed, two Chinese individuals discuss helping the Americans with their classified project. They remark that their project would end after that but they help anyways. During the beginning of the ARES 5 mission, they can be seen in the launch room and a Chinese astronaut is aboard the shuttle.

The film covers this well enough that doesn't leave you with any questions but the book goes a bit deeper into it. Apparently the Chinese government were not fond of the classified project and it was understood that they would not reimburse the Chinese equivalent of NASA for loaning the parts. While trying to discuss what they could barter for with the American government, they realize there isn't much they can ask for as all of this endeavor is being sent to help one man. Instead, they settle on bartering a native Chinese astronaut to join on the next ARES mission, as one can witness in the film.

Closing Thoughts

All in all, it's a very good adaptation. The film excels at delivering an isolated and unforgiving landscape. Watney never moves around easily and there's nothing but red sand and jagged mountains on the surface. He is never shown to be properly comfortable aside when he eats, and even then that degrades as the film goes on.

Watney shares a lot more fanciful musings in the book as per his internal dialogue (or more exactly, his conversation with his journal entries) such as Aquaman's ability to manipulate whales and dolphins, or renaming a unit of energy consumption to 'pirate ninjas,' and so on. Matt Damon easily captures the rest of his qualities however.

As for everything else, it's on point. Really, there's little they change that I haven't already mentioned. The film affords an impressive visual landscape to compare with that mentally imagined when reading and the rest of the cast matches up well to their respective characters. This is definitely one of those adaptations that does justice to the source material, but I can't admit to the quality of this film surpassing that of its literary source. Nevertheless, it's certainly not going to make the readers mad.

Book vs. Movie

For those of you who read the book and watched the movie, what did you prefer?

See results

Further Reading

If you're curious on how I felt about the film as a standalone entity, you can check out my review.

Also, if you're interested in reading more Page to Screen Adaptations you can, or even offer new ideas you'd like to hear me talk about (figuratively of course) in the comments below.


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