From Page to Film: ‘The Martian’ Media Comparison

The fantasy, science-fiction movie The Martian is based on the the fascinating novel The Martian by Andy Weir. The movie was directed by Ridley Scott, and was released in 2015. The story is about an astronaut (Mark Watney) who is left behind by the other astronauts on Mars when they abort their mission and are going back to Earth due to a storm, since he was presumed dead. Both the novel and the movie are pretty good and effective in developing the plot, theme, and characters. However, an important question to ask is whether the book or the movie is a better vehicle for telling the story. The novel and the movie are each good in developing certain things in the story in different ways, for instance, the novel had better character development, both of them did a somewhat good job in developing the plot, (even though the book had a bit better plot development), and lastly, different themes were developed differently by each of them. This is important because it shows how both the novel and the movie have different ways of showing theme, plot, and character development in the story, although, when deeply analyzed, the book is overall a better vehicle to tell the story (in this case and, arguably, in most cases).

One of the main developments that was addressed adeptly in both the novel and the movie was the plot. While both the film and page versions feature engaging action, the movie left out a lot of details from the book that weren’t insignificant, or they changed them to make the movie more interesting. That is understandable because movies can’t include all details from the books, in order to have the best results. For example, at the end of the movie, Commander Lewis went to take Watney back to Hermes, because their speed was too high for Watney’s Floating spaceship, when originally, it was Beck who did that in the book. Additionally, in the book, Watney says that he wants to poke a hole in his EVA suit, to use the escaping air as a thruster and “fly around like Iron Man” (Weir 353). However, this was taken as a joke in the book, but in the movie, he actually did that to reach commander Lewis in space, which was quite unrealistic even thought that was done to make the movie more thrilling and interesting. Another example would be Mark’s fifty-day long trip to the Schiaparelli Crater, which was really safe and without any problems in the movie, however, that’s about the opposite of the way it is in the novel. Moreover, Mark flips the rover on his way down the crater, faces a dead end which causes problems since he needs to avoid a storm, and many more problems which were not included in the movie. Although, having said all these, it is important to remember that some of the events were much easier to show and develop in the movie, such as the vast nothingness and void in space, through sounds, visuals, music, etc. Thus, the novel overall has a better way of developing the plot, since the events that occur in the story make more sense to the audience because of the details provided.

The second important thing, is theme development, which was developed differently by each of the novel and the movie, since they both developed certain themes in different ways better or worse than each other. For instance, the theme of isolation was shown and developed well in both the movie and the novel. However, in the movie, the theme is shown better since a theme like that is communicated better through pictures and visuals. So, when you see the vast amount of emptiness in space, the feeling of loneliness is transferred better and the audience will understand it better when they see the big void, or how Mark Watney can easily die, get stuck on Mars, or just float off into the void with one small mistake. Other themes such as perseverance, sacrifice, and friendship can be communicated better through the novel. That’s because more details are provided in the book, and that causes the audience to see the characters’ relationships with each other, their thoughts, and their motives for what they do. Other themes such as science or man against nature are explained well in different ways in both the novel and the book. The book provides formulas and specific explanations. For example, in the book Mark explains how he’s going to create water, “If I run the hydrazine over an iridium catalyst, it’ll separate into N2 and H2”(Weir 24). However, in the movie, lots of the explanatory procedures are communicated to the audience through visuals, as they see him “take hydrogen, add oxygen, and burn [them]” (Scott, 2015, Scott Free Productions). Therefore, both the novel and movie developed the themes in the story well, but using different methods.

The last but not least important development, is the development of characters in the story. The character development in the novel, is much better than the character development in the movie. That is because of how the book has much more dialogue and details, or even sometimes the readers get to know what the characters are thinking. As a result, the readers get to know the characters pretty well, and notice their development. An example would be how in the book, the audience finds out that the Ares 3 crew have “picked [Beth Johansson] to be the survivor… So, [she] won’t die even if everything goes wrong” (Weir 252). The information is given to the readers through Johansson’s conversation with her father, in which the audience finds out many things about her family, her way of thinking, personality, the group’s plans, etc. However, in the movie, parts like this have been eliminated to prevent the movie from getting long and boring. Moreover, in the movie, the audience don’t get much chance or information to get to know a lot of the characters, so then they can have opinions about them or notice their development. That’s the case for characters like Mindy Park or Beck. However, in the book more details are provided and therefore the readers can connect and understand them more. Because of the same reason, there are some other changes in the movie, too. For instance, at the end if the movie, since the actor playing Commander Lewis’ character is more well known and more important in the story, they changed the story so then in the end, she jumps out of Hermes (their spaceship) to go and grab Watney, even though in the book it was actually Beck who did that. So, the book and the movie both did a great job of developing the characters in the story.

The novel and the movie The Martian both proved effective in developing the themes, plot, and characters in the essential story. Movies and books have different ways of communicating different things to the audience, as movies communicate through visuals, sound, music, etc. and books communicate through words, the author’s writing style, and so on. However, in general, the books are usually better than the movies in communicating with the audience, since they provide more details, and other things that help them understand the story better. The Martian movie was really good compared to the other movies that are based on books, since the directors were able to professionally make the novel into a movie. However, since movies can’t give the audience as much information in a couple of hours as books do in several hundred pages, they end up leaving interesting details from the story. That’s why the Martian book, and books in general are overall better vehicles to tell the story. Though, it is important not to forget that sometimes books cannot communicate certain messages as well as the movies do, since pictures and music are really important and influential too. An example of that in this case would be how the themes “isolation” or “man against nature” were better developed in the movie. Thus, <> novel is a better vehicle to tell the story than the movie by a slight difference.

Faith in American Power: Space Travel on Film in ‘The Martian’

When comparing the way two mediums depict the same story, one has to take into account the limitations of each medium. Films are generally limited by length, while books are generally limited by each reader’s individual imagination. In the case of “The Martian”, this length limitation on the film not only cuts out interesting parts of the narrative, but shifts the overall tone of the text. While the bones of each text read the same, the film’s deviations from the novel shift the message from emphasizing the intelligence and luck of one man to an affirmation of American imperialism and ingenuity.

This shift establishes itself primarily in the amount of time the audience spends with the group of people on Earth. In the novel, the majority of the story happens on Mars with Mark, with some scenes from the crew of Hermes and a few scenes about NASA on Earth. In the film, NASA gets a lot more focus, perhaps to make the audience feel like they are watching it happen like everyone else on Earth. Regardless of the reasoning behind this choice, the proportion of time spent on each planet balances out to almost equal in the film, which means less focus on Mark than in the novel. Many of his significant scenes are cut in the name of a shorter runtime, which makes it more difficult to emotionally connect with his character and fails to show many of the ways in which he exemplifies his intellect and resourcefulness. Instead, the film focuses on the abilities of the scientists who are working to save him, emphasizing this group effort and a positive ideal of teamwork. While this gives the audience faith in the ability of institutions like NASA to solve these devastating problems, it also gives it a slight taint of propaganda. The scientists are shown to be incredibly intelligent and great problem-solvers, but this is a real institution being portrayed fictionally. Their ability in both the novel and the film is speculation and potentially places false hope in the American people that our scientists are smart enough to solve any problem. It takes away a lot of the responsibility that lies with Mark and subsequently, minimizes his individual importance.

This minimization becomes more prominent when Mark does not lose contact with Earth in the film. Because he consistently has people to talk to and scientists to figure things out, he seems less isolated. The film even downplays the resentment he feels toward the scientists and their tendency to micromanage him. In the novel, this resentment highlights how competent he is and paints NASA as unnecessarily controlling. He is able to function with or without them on a scientific level, and some of the biggest help they provide is actually the psychological help of human communication. Conversely, the film never takes away this communication, which makes him a weaker character. Through this, the audience does not see the full extent to which his isolation affects him mentally and does not know the problems he can solve on his own. His individual greatness is taken away in favor of this teamwork theme which highlights the greatness of the scientists and America. A lot of the significance of the novel is his utter isolation and how that affects a person, which is lost in the film. This also means some of Mark’s strength is taken away, and the audience does not see that his mental state is a big part of the reason he is able to survive for so long on Mars.

The audience is also less involved with Mark personally because of the way the film chose to do his logs. Instead of being written like in the novel, they become video journals in the film and they are not the only way through which the audience experiences him. Viewers see what he experiences directly through the cameras observing him instead of through his accounts of his activities. In losing him as the middleman, the audience becomes disconnected from him. While in the novel, the reader feels like they are on Mars with Mark, the film makes viewers feel like they are watching surveillance tapes and it makes the experience impersonal. It does not give Mark the opportunity to grow on the viewers in the same way he does in the novel. It also does not allow him to show emotional vulnerability the way he does in the novel. When he writes, it is easier to see how he feels compared to the film, where he seems to be putting up a front in his logs to appear strong and less pessimistic. He uses more jokes and sarcasm to cover his sadness. He does have moments where the observational cameras catch moments of him being truly upset, but these moments are so few that they do not make him as sympathetic as he is in the novel. Losing this connection takes away from impact of the story because he becomes more of an icon that needs saving rather than an actual person the audience can identify with.

This diminution of character happens to nearly all the characters in the film. Annie is less aggressive, Mitch has less of a fiery personality, and all of the astronauts on the Hermes lack the roundness of character they have in the novel. The filmmakers deemed these cuts necessary to make the movie fall within an expected time frame and send the message they wanted to send. In diminishing each individual, the group as a whole becomes slightly more cohesive. In reducing the conflicting personalities, discussions can take less time while dually emphasizing this idea of all working together toward a national goal. The most discursive of the administrators is Mitch, and he has a British accent, potentially to delineate him from the group and further justify his insubordination. The other administrators are connected by their American nationality and their belief in the greatness of space missions. These two elements combined create this theme of imperialism that exists throughout both the film and the novel.

The novel’s references to imperialism are more understated than those in the film, but the most poignant is the fact that Mark “colonized” Mars by planting potatoes on it. He also names a few things on Mars, which also follows the imperialism theme. Because this is such a common theme in science fiction, it would be odd if it were not present. The book does a better job of painting these actions as unnecessary, and highlights all the dangers mankind puts itself through in order to obtain this goal. In contrast, the movie writes these space travels as proof of outstanding American power. The director of the Mars missions knows that if he tells Teddy he wants to use the satellites so they could potentially have another mission, Teddy will be more likely to allow it. This betrays the NASA director’s insatiable desire for space travel. He always wants more, which is again seen when he decides the Hermes crew should not go back for Mark. He says, “We still have a chance to bring five astronauts home safe and sound. I’m not risking their lives,” he is essentially saying that he is not willing to take the risk of an entire mission crew dying, even if it is the safest option, because he will not be able to do any further missions (The Martian). This is imperialism masked by strict logic. While there is a logical explanation for not risking these lives, his motivations for making this choice are unfortunately driven by public perception. He knows that if powerful Americans do not back the idea of space exploration, he will no longer be able to do it. And finally, at the end of the film, another Ares mission is being sent to Mars, showing that Americans are still willing to spend insane amounts of money and risk lives to go to a planet seventeen people have already been to. While there are scientific discoveries to be made, one must question if those discoveries are worth the effort put into the program.

The film celebrates this progress, even in the wake of all the problems it had caused. In contrast, the novel seems to have the idea that getting one person trapped on Mars is enough for a lifetime. It emphasizes that this imperialistic drive towards space is, in some ways, doomed because no country can own things from space. All of this work and money is in the name of science and bragging rights. While it is not as bad as it could be, this theme of imperialism in the movie makes the story feel less authentic and diminishes Mark Watney’s character to a shell of what it could have been. The filmmakers chose to cut significant character development to send a positive message about American space travel, sacrificing crucial plot points to serve an agenda. The novel (especially with the original ending) seems to better represent the thoughts of an individual, instead of the thoughts of a production company that are emphasized in the film. The novel does not shy away from the gritty and difficult parts of the story, but the film glosses over them to encourage further space travel and faith in American power.