The Martian (movie)

“Never judge a book by its movie.”

I just watched “The Martian” — the movie adaptation of the book by Andy Weir. Luckily there’s a cinema nearby which at least sometimes shows movies in their original version (German synchronizations are … terrible).

I really loved the book (read posting here) — the movie however … it’s a mixed bag.

There are some things they did really well. Esp. considering that a person acting alone with no one to talk too — not the easiest situation for telling a story as a movie. Luckily, the story is told in part via log recordings (kinda like a 21st century diary novel). They did a really good job with the music (hello disco music). And that NASA has to publish everything within 24 hours — did read it in the book, but seeing it in the movie — yeah, the advantages and disadvantages become more clear.

However, a few things they really missed out on — and with other things they did a terrible job.

I mean, I can live with omitting

  • the scene where Watney discovers the sandstorm he’s heading in — although I think this is one of his smartest moves. He notices something odd most people would miss because it’s consisting of very subtle changes, makes measurements, and takes evasive actions,
  • that Watney short-circuited Pathfinder by accident and had to communicate via stones, or
  • that the rover turned over and he had to turn it upright.

But omitting that there was a backup plan in case the food resupply did not reach Hermes? Which would mean that the 5 astronauts on board would die of starvation, yet they found a way that at least one would survive and bring the ship home? That was actually a pretty impressive part of the story. I mean, there’s risking your life and dying if things go wrong, and there’s risking your life and having to survive if things go wrong:

“Dad, I’ll be all right. Tell Mom I’ll be all right.”
“What good will that do?” he said. “She’s going to be tied up in knots until you’re back home.”
“I know,” Johanssen mumbled. “But … ”
“What? But what?”
“I won’t die. I really won’t. Even if everything goes wrong.”
“What do you mean?”
Johanssen furrowed her brow. “Just tell Mom I won’t die.”
“How? I don’t understand.”
“I don’t want to get into the how,” Johanssen said.
“Look,” he said, leaning toward the camera, “I’ve always respected your privacy and independence. I never tried to pry into your life, never tried to control you. I’ve been really good about that, right?”
“So in exchange for a lifetime of staying out of your business, let me nose in just this once. What are you not telling me?”
She fell silent for several seconds. Finally, she said, “They have a plan.”
“They always have a plan,” she said. “They work out everything in advance.”
“What plan?”
“They picked me to survive. I’m youngest. I have the skills necessary to get home alive. And I’m the smallest and need the least food.”
“What happens if the probe fails, Beth?” her father asked.
“Everyone would die but me,” she said. “They’d all take pills and die. They’ll do it right away so they don’t use up any food. Commander Lewis picked me to be the survivor. She told me about it yesterday. I don’t think NASA knows about it.”
“And the supplies would last until you got back to Earth?”
“No,” she said. “We have enough food left to feed six people for a month. If I was the only one, it would last six months. With a reduced diet I could stretch it to nine. But it’ll be seventeen months before I get back.”
“So how would you survive?”
“The supplies wouldn’t be the only source of food,” she said.
He widened his eyes. “Oh … oh my god … ”
“Just tell Mom the supplies would last, okay?”
“The Martian” by Andy Weir

And yeah, just imagine having to face that PR debacle afterwards. It would probably bury NASA’s plans for future missions for a while (BTW, the PR part of NASA was very well done in the movie). A hostile press would spin it into something akin to “space flight turns astronauts into cannibals” or the like.

Another thing that was really just … wrong were the two changes at the end. First, Commander Lewis’ decision to catch Watney herself during the flyby. That was just an insanely stupid move. Not only does she lack specific training for the task. She’s also risking not only her life, but the life of the whole crew if she fails. A return trip after failing to catch Watney and losing the Commander? Probably wouldn’t go smoothly. Seriously, a good Commander should know when to delegate and let the best qualified person do the job. She wasn’t and her place was on the bridge. Second, Watney playing Iron Man. Seriously? I loved his joke in the book because this absurdly stupid idea gave Lewis the right idea. Actually playing it out? Arrrrrrrggghhhhhh! I guess the two changes were made to give the film a more impressive climax. Frankly, it did not add, it spoiled the climax.

Also not sure why they changed the Mitch Henderson (Hermes flight director/Sean Bean) character. In the book, he also secretly gives the plan to resupply Hermes during an Earth flyby and then collect Watney during a Mars flyby to the Hermes crew. But in contrast with the movie, he isn’t meek and … broken in the book. Quite the contrary:

MITCH PLOPPED down on the couch in Teddy’s office. He put his feet up on the coffee table and smiled at Teddy. “You wanted to see me?”
“Why’d you do it, Mitch?” Teddy demanded.
“Do what?”
“You know damn well what I’m talking about.”
“Oh, you mean the Hermes mutiny?’ Mitch said. innocently. “You know, that’d make a good movie title. The Hermes Mutiny. Got a nice ring to it.”
“We know you did it,” Teddy said sternly. “We don’t know how, but we know you sent them the maneuver.”
“So you don’t have any proof.”
Teddy glared. “No. Not yet, but we’re working on it.”
“Really?” Mitch said. “Is that really the best use of our time? I mean, we have a near-Earth resupply to plan, not to mention figuring out how to get Watney to Schiaparelli. We’ve got a lot on our plates.”
“You’re damn right we have a lot on our plates!” Teddy fumed. “After your little stunt, we’re committed to this thing.”
“Alleged stunt,” Mitch said, raising a finger. “I suppose Annie will tell the media we decided to try this risky maneuver? And she’ll leave out the mutiny part?”
“Of course,” Teddy said. “Otherwise we’d look like idiots.”
“I guess everyone’s off the hook then!” Mitch smiled. “Can’t fire people for enacting NASA policy. Even Lewis is fine. What mutiny? And maybe Watney gets to live. Happy endings all around!”
“You may have killed the whole crew,” Teddy countered. “Ever think of that?”
“Whoever gave them the maneuver,” Mitch said, “only passed along information. Lewis made the decision to act on it. If she let emotion cloud her judgment, she’d be a shitty commander. And she’s not a shitty commander.”
“If I can ever prove it was you, I’ll find a way to fire you for it,” Teddy warned.
“Sure.” Mitch shrugged. “But if I wasn’t willing to take risks to save lives, I’d … ” He thought for a moment. “Well, I guess I’d be you.”
“The Martian” by Andy Weir

Why the character change? Makes absolutely no sense to me. In the movie, he even agrees to hand in his resignation after the crisis is over. Smacks like a political correctness move. And yup, in a long-term PR kind of view, it was irresponsible. Losing the whole crew would have seriously hurt NASA and mankind’s space travel in the future. But it also was the right thing to do. Especially considering the crew and what they would think and feel after returning home and learning about the other plan.

Movie poster (from Wikipedia)

The last really annoying thing is the poster. There’s no moment in the movie where his helmet looks this way. If it did, he’d be dead — or at least, his face would be a mess due to the force needed to damage the helmet this way. Sure, there’s a moment where his helmet got damaged (unfortunately, they use tape in the movie, another substance in the book, and the stuff in the book makes more sense). But it’s only a crack and not remotely close to anything on the poster.

So yeah, a mixed bag. Perhaps due to reading the book shortly before the movie, I was more focused on noticing differences than enjoying the movie. But somehow, I think they turned a remarkable book into an unremarkable movie. Esp. compared to other works like “Apollo 13” (which had similarly creative solutions) or “All is Lost” (where another person had to deal with survival on his own).

So it’s somewhat nice entertainment, but absolutely no comparison to the quality of the book. So much of the creativity and creative problem solving that is visible in the book got lost in the movie.


  1. Few points: needless to say that the movie’s outcome, like for the vast majority of Hollywood blockbusters over the last two decades or so, have been predictable to the point of absurdity.
    Ultimately, what humiliated me and made me almost throw up was the scene of Beijing-London-NYC streets masses exaltation.
    Another two and a half hours spent on a Hollywood blockbuster I had a feeling it was going to be a cultural disaster.

  2. Hmm, actually I don’t mind happy ends (the book ends well, too), but I agree it was over the top. Loved the book ending with stinks like hell but also extremely happy (BTW, another idiotic thing: where did he shower proor to launch? AFAIR there was no habitat, just the MAV and the Rover).

  3. hi Daniel glad to see your blog, I was thinking on watching the movie this weekend. thanks for the heads up. I’ll change the plan and catch it when it comes out on TV.
    will watch a Camadian movie instead something about a small room. Apparently it’s good talk to you later

  4. Thanks Daniel for the heads up. was thinking to watch the movie this weekend will now wait until it is on TV.
    glad to read your blog

  5. Hoi Ania,

    I hope the Canadian movie was worthwhile. The Martian isn’t a bad movie (save the ending), it’s just that the book is vastly better. Also I’m currently not very active on Twitter anymore — simple lack the time at the moment (two lectures to prepare, some advisory stuff, and happy as I can be :-)).

    All the best


  6. Glad to know Daniel! happiness is frequently inversely proportional to time spent online.
    good luck with all your projects. I’ll come visit your blog.
    Cheers 🙂

  7. Hoi Ania,

    thank you, best to you as well.

    (Currently still taxed to capacity … very high stress level, but the good kind of stress. I am almost as happy as I can be. 🙂 )



  8. Overall I liked the movie, but I also couldn’t stand what they did to Sean Bean’s character, I couldn’t figure out why he was so meek.
    Only one complaint about the article, in the poster the faceplate of the helmet isn’t broken, it’s just a reflection of what Watney’s looking at, that makes it look that way.

  9. “I couldn’t figure out why he was so meek”

    Guessing because we can’t have an employee act on his own and do what’s right. Whether it’s whistle-blowing or saving a crew, this person has to be punished. And hey, good catch with the helmet. Might be a reflection, but if it is, still badly designed to give this impression. 😉

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