In Book or Movie, ‘The Martian’ Soars

By Rachel Wilmans
Senior Editor

Andy Weir’s debut novel, The Martian, began humbly as a serialized story on Weir’s personal website, but since then it has taken off astronomically (pun intended). Many who read the novel on the website requested that Weir put his story on Amazon, and he acquiesced, setting the novel at the lowest possible price. Then, as the book became extremely popular, climbing Amazon’s sci-fi charts, a publisher approached Weir, and soon, movie rights were purchased. Now, the film has been nominated for seven Academy Awards, a perfect end to the rags-to-riches story.

The Martian provides a modern take on the classic “stranded on a deserted island” storyline by leaving the protagonist, Astronaut Mark Watney, completely alone on Mars. His crewmates and the rest of the world believe that he is dead. Cut off from all communication with Earth, the only thing he can rely on to survive is his ingenuity. His challenges include everything from creating a food supply to adapting his equipment to travel across the planet, and as the plot progresses, Watney constantly comes up with solutions that leave the viewer speechless. His fight for survival is a testament to the perseverance of the human spirit and shows that it can flourish even millions of miles away from Earth.

So how does the movie that captivated so many compare to the book that started it all?

With an Academy Award nomination for Adapted Screenplay under its belt, it is no surprise that the best parts of the The Martian made the transition from page to screen. Mark Watney’s trademark humor, a defense mechanism that gets Watney through the treacherous world of Mars, dominates every chapter of the novel and is seen throughout the movie. Memorable lines like “…yeah I’m a botanist! Fear my botany powers!” are duplicated almost word-for-word in the film, a rare feat in adaptations. These moments of wit bring life to what could otherwise be a dry storyline and allow the reader to empathize with Watney from the page one, and the filmmakers brought that aspect to the forefront.

Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon) enters a video log during his mission on Mars. (Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox trailer)

Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon) enters a video log during his mission on Mars. (Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox film trailer)

The majority of the challenges that Watney must overcome in the novel are included in the film version as well. Though there are a few plot points left out, the events that did get cut were minor enough that the flow of the storyline remains true. This means that the tone and pacing of the movie and the book match up extremely well, another sign of an excellent adaptation.

The book and the film do differ in a few ways, however. Firstly, the novel includes much more of the science behind everything Watney does. Since the book is written as if it is Watney’s mission log, he goes into great detail about everything from the pressure in his space suit to how an oxygenator works. For scientifically-minded readers, this might be a positive aspect because the explanations give insight to Watney’s thought process as he solves every problem. The movie, due to time constraints, obviously cannot go into such exacting detail, and the plot moves along more quickly as a result, focusing on the action rather than the science leading up to it.

Secondly, those who read the book after seeing the movie might be let down by the novel’s ending. The film dramatizes Weir’s original conclusion quite a bit, adding additional twists to make it more exciting. The book version may be more straightforward, but the movie provides a conclusion that really leaves viewers on the edge of their seats.

Whether you read the book or watch the movie, The Martian is well worth your time. Weir expertly mixes fascinating science and scintillating humor, echoing the classic lone survivor story while providing a modern twist. 

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