The Martian: Maybe Leaving Him There Would Have Made a Better Film

The title is harsh, I know. But it speaks a lot of truth to my feelings towards Andy Weir’s The Martian.

Much like my review of Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs, I’m going to give a short and a not-so-short review of both the movie and the novel.

Some background on The Martian:

  • It was written as a web serial on Andy Weir’s website, so this explains the “log” format of The Martian‘s main character, Mark Watney.
  • The movie rights were secured the week the novel was published.

Short Version (for the book): I hate Mark Watney so much. I didn’t even know it was possible to hate a fictional character. If reading a book where the main character spouts memes and in-jokes for 200+ pages is your thing, then this is the book for you. If reading a book where the main character is an infallible Gary Stu and has no bearing on how a real person would interact in that situation, then this is the book for you.

I give the book 1/10: it got me to spend 12 or so dollars on a book not worth reading.

Not-So-Short Version (for the book): The main problem I have with the book is how unrealistic the human side is. Mark Watney is such a grating character and so one-dimensional. The constant in-jokes and memes he writes in his logs (which can easily fill an entire chapter) makes it seem like an internet jester was sent to Mars, pretending to be a botanist. The plot was flat and uninteresting, and easily the weakest part of the novel. Here’s the format of the plot:

  1. Problem occurs
  2. Oh no, woe is me.
  3. I can solve it because <insert skills here>.
  4. Problem is solved.
  5. <Insert memes here>.
  6. Go to Step 1.

The part that seals the deal for me is how amateurish the prose is when the plot is not focused on Watney. The character interactions within the NASA staff are just as one-dimensional as Watney. In closing (I had just come back from a walk and lost the will to ramble), the main character Mark Watney is not real enough to be convincing. He doesn’t feel like a emotional, rational, and irrational character. In fact, he feels more like a robot with enough deus ex machina’s to fill an entire genre. The novel is overly optimistic (and sometimes too much so) and the prose does not compensate for the lack of plot.

 

Short Version (for the movie): It’s fine. I have faith in Ridley Scott’s direction and, given what he had to work with, I think he did a good job adapting the novel.

I give the movie 5/10: it felt like a standard science fiction film – not too overly dramatic teetering over the edge of disbelief, but not too flat like the novel.

Not-So-Short Version (for the movie): It’s fine, but not so much better than the novel. Ridley Scott sidelined most of Watney’s monologues (and memes), so Matt Damon’s character didn’t make me grit my teeth for an hour and a half. Jeff Daniel’s performance was great given how flat his character was. Danny Glover had literally 3 scenes. 3. The plot was meh, the visual effects were decent, and the pacing was decent as well. There really isn’t much to complain now that Watney isn’t constantly meme-ing and there isn’t an hour of log entries and half an hour of actual, honest-to-god plot.

 

In the end, the book wasn’t good and I still don’t understand why people like it. Coincidentally, this is the last time I take a book recommendation from any tech sites (I’m looking at you, ars technica) or reddit.