September 12, 2015

MIGHT HAVE TO ACTUALLY GO TO A THEATER:

The Martian brings science, largely unchanged, from book to screen (Lee Hutchinson - Sep 12, 2015, Ars Technica)

The movie gets it right. Though truncated for time, most of the major scenes in the book are present and recognizable, with science intact. In order to stretch his food supply, Watney grows potatoes on Mars (and those are in fact real potatoes on screen, according to Matt Damon). To make water, Watney pulls hydrogen out of extra hydrazine fuel and burns it. His long rover trek to Schiaparelli Crater--a huge focus in the book's third act--is mostly intact.

And, of course, Mark Watney is Mark Watney--the f-bomb dropping pirate-botanist king of Mars. Fears that Matt Damon lacked the charisma to pull off the role are completely unfounded, and he turns in a standout performance as an interplanetary Robinson Crusoe.

By the end of the film--no spoilers, don't worry--Watney has spent close to two years on Mars. Author Andy Weir--who was kind enough to talk to Ars at length last November and who also hung out with us at the movie's world premiere in Toronto--previously explained to us that he wanted to write a science story, not a character study in crippling depression, and so he deliberately wrote Mark Watney as a resourceful fellow with an almost inhuman amount of optimism and resolve. Even when faced with repeated catastrophes and setbacks, book-Watney is always ready to sleep on a problem and then doggedly narrate his solution.

Director Ridley Scott chose to go in a slightly different way with the film. So much of the book relies on the audience having access to Watney's internal monologue (because so much of the book is composed of Watney's journal writings), and heavy narration in movies is a dramatic device that rarely works. So, we get to hear Watney's thoughts via video logs that he keeps--but we also get to see Watney in a way that we can't in the novel.

Scott paints Mars almost as a contemporary twin to the planetoid on which the Nostromo crew lands in his 1979 film Alien (the world is referred to as "LV-426" in Aliens, but it has no name in the first film). The orchestral musical cues subtly echo Jerry Goldsmith's haunting score from that film, and Mars is shown in all its inhospitable vastness--often with that vastness juxtaposed against a very small and very insignificant Watney. Alien visual designer and Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger said in his Giger's Alien art book that he thought of the planetoid in that movie as his own biomechanical world; Ridley Scott's Mars is the sunlit antipode of that world, while still retaining a tremendous sense of indifference to the doings of humankind.

Posted by at September 12, 2015 6:39 PM
  

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