The Martian

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.)



7 Responses to “The Martian”

  1. urdith Says:

    That clip has brightened my day. Thank you.

  2. ArcLight Says:

    I was quite the fan of how they used “Love Train” (as well as “Roller Coaster of Love”) in ‘Final Destination 3’, too.

    I seem to remember Javier Grillo-Marxuach stating that seeing ‘The Last Days of Disco’ convinced him that if the The Middleman ever became a live-action project, Keeslar should be the man to play him. Good call, there. I should probably watch the movie, even tho I am and ever shall be a ‘Disco sux!’ sorta guy.

    Really looking forward to ‘The Expanse,’ and thanks again for turning me on to the books. Or possibly, thanks for the first time – can’t remember if it’s come up before.

    I really enjoyed the book version of ‘The Martian.’ Right or wrong, I was willing to cut it some slack based on its publishing history – originally serialized online, then compiled into a ninety-nine cent Kindle version at the request of fans. I do like the way the movie streamlined things, but was a little put out that ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’ reference didn’t make the film. Another one for the Blu-ray collection.

    Side-note – still bummed I didn’t get the time-off approved to try and make Dragon*Con this year and get a Kitty book signed, but missing it gave me the time (and money) to see Lee Majors, Lindsay Wagner, and Richard Anderson together at a con, so “Yay, me.”

  3. carriev Says:

    I would go see Lindsay Wagner over me any time!

    “The Last Days of Disco” is worth it just for seeing a bunch of well-known actors in younger roles (Robert Sean Leonard, Kate Beckinsale), and the story is pretty good too. It’s about a young woman who really wants to be part of this cultural moment — disco, the sexual revolution, etc. — but keeps bumping up against the shitty parts of it. So even if you hate disco, it’s good!

  4. I saw the movie the first weekend it was out, and I loved it competently for many of the same reasons you did. I was totally geeking on the equipment, and the Hermes . . . just loved it! Also, I was bouncing up and down in my seat when “Waterloo” was playing, huge smile on my face and everything. (As I also said when I reviewed the movie on my blog, “It was a scene I would have written.”)

    I’ve not read the book, but I loved that there were parts of the movie that the moment he started looking at maps or getting ready to do something, I was thinking, “He’s gonna do/go–” and I was right. Ah, I love being enough of a geek to remember that stuff.

    I would love to see more movies like this. I’ll take your advice about “The Expanse”. Maybe Sify can win me back with that one.

  5. To be fair, I highly doubt Alfonso Cuaron didn’t trust his audience when he made Gravity; the metaphor seemed to me to be more window dressing, rather than diminishing the primary focus of staying alive in space. Then again, I’ve seen other outer space enthusiasts take Gravity rather personally, so what do I know?

    Anyway, yeah, The Martian is the movie this fall I’ve been looking forward to the most. Incidentally, The New Yorker‘s review called it Ridley Scott’s true companion piece to Alien, rather than the dud that was Prometheus.

  6. carriev Says:

    It’s funny, the opening credits of The Martian — the way the title faded in, the eerie music, even the font they used — made me think exactly of Alien!

  7. Adam. Says:

    The effects were 80’s BBC SciFi cheap but has anyone pointed you toward Star Cops?

    Cops in near orbit, no aliens. None.

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