October 12, 2015
For years now I’ve ranted that what I want, more than anything, is a beautiful movie about living and working in space that doesn’t rely on monsters, metaphor, or melodrama to build suspense because it doesn’t trust the audience to understand that space is already suspenseful enough because it’s always trying to kill you.
FINALLY. This is that movie. Oh thank God. (An aside: The Expanse TV show coming to SyFy in December is also that TV show. I’ve seen the first episode and it is divine, especially if you’re a fan of the books. But more about that later.)
Mars is beautiful. The Hermes is gorgeous. Science nerds being science nerds is awesome. Only the bare minimum explanation of tech details because it trusts the audience. Pulling the Pathfinder model out of storage at JPL made me cry. We are spacefaring beings and this movie celebrates that. Really good upbeat stuff here. Ridley Scott can still make taut, non-bloated movies!
A Word about the Book and Movie as Adaptation
I know a lot of people really like the book. That’s fine. But I’m one of the people who found it a bit of a slog. I made an effort to read it before the movie, and I kind of wish I hadn’t, so that the movie would have been more of a surprise.
But the movie fixed every single problem I had with the book. As I knew it would. Seriously, I finished the book and immediately thought about how much better the movie was going to be.
First, the movie left out all the parts of the book that I skimmed (I did a lot of skimming toward the end). Second, just having the faces of some charismatic actors (and oh, this is a cast of charismatic actors) to do some emoting and give me something to relate to immediately added a level of depth the book entirely lacked in terms of character. Seeing family photos pinned up in the habitat? That all by itself provided more of an emotional anchor than I found in the book.
That scene toward the end of the film of Mark leaving the shower and you can see every single rib and lump on his backbone because he’s down 40 lbs after spending a year on tight rations? Not to mention the burns and bruises and exhausted look in his face? His obvious agitation when the wind is blowing and his makeshift repair on the habitat might or might not be holding? That’s what I wanted from this story, to see that this trial was affecting him. To be able to just frakking relate to these people.
In the book, Mark — and everyone else for that matter — aren’t so much characters as they are stand-ins for an engineering thought experiment. And I guess that’s okay. Except the emotional flatness drove me batty. That, and the cheap narrative tricks the book used to build suspense, which the movie completely dispensed with, so huzzah!
One last thing: apropos of absolutely nothing, it amused me that The Martian used “Love Train” in exactly the same place in the story, structurally speaking, as The Last Days of Disco did. (You should totally click on that last clip because it includes a freaking adorable Matt Keeslar, aka the Middleman, dancing.)