Wednesday, January 06, 2016

The Martian - Book or Movie?

When I read the book, I kept being surprised at the level of detail author Andy Weir took me through.  He didn't just say that Mark Watney created water using the oxygen and hydrogen he had, but he went through very specific details about how he did it.  I was amazed that he was doing it and also that I didn't get bored.  I got a general idea of what he was actually doing.

So the movie's glossing over the details was unsatisfying in the beginning.  I kept wondering how those in the audience who hadn't read the book knew what was going on.  Would they understand why he was doing this or that.  They didn't know why the MAV blew up or why he cut off the roof of the rover and stuck a bubble of plastic on it.

In the interview afterward screenwriter Drew Goddard said that he didn't understand all that Weir had explained in the book and that the audience didn't need to know exactly how he created water, just that he needed the water to survive.  And, of course, the movie doesn't have time for that kind of detail.  They even left out the huge storm that almost wipes things out toward the end.  But actually, in the book, that seemed like a plot device to add to the tension, and really wasn't necessary.  But then a number of the disasters, individually, weren't necessary.  But collectively they were needed to demonstrate how difficult surviving would have been.

In fact, after the film, the first question from the LA Times writer Meredith Woerner asked each of the panelists was how long they thought they could survive on Mars. Production designer Arthur Max said, after a pause, "About a minute." The others didn't give a lot longer. Radiation would do you in they said and a suit strong enough to protect you would be way too bulky to be able to do anything in. I think it was good to get that out of the way - hey, this is fiction and despite all the science used to get Mark out of each problem, the book and movie never deal with the fundamental problem of radiation.

In the end I was marveling at how manipulatable humans are, as we get emotionally involved in this
set of images on a screen that we know is made up. In a situation that couldn't have happened. Yet we go with it anyway.

Sorry about the quality of the picture, but it gives you a little sense of the four panelists and the interviewer. From left to right: interviewer, Meredith Woerner; screenwriter Drew Goddard; composer Harry Gregson-Williams; director of photography Dariusz Wolski; and production designer Arthur Max.

I'd like to add more about the discussion, but it's late and we fly home tomorrow and still have to get the house a bit more presentable for our friends who will be staying here.  Though I'd like to add that I didn't catch all their names at the time and had to check when I got home.  It was only then that the screenwriter's comment about having grown up around scientists in Los Alamos, New Mexico clicked.  But after checking on Robert H. Goddard,
"American engineer, professor, physicist, and inventor who is credited with creating and building the world's first liquid-fueled rocket, which he successfully launched on March 16, 1926"
I could find no mention of him having any children.  Maybe there's a connection that I just didn't find, but it seems fitting for a Goddard to do the screenplay of The Martian.

Both the book and movie were worth watching.  I found the book much more compelling, but I think the movie would have been better if I hadn't read the book.

[UPDATE Jan 7, 2016 7:15am:  I forgot to mention that the credits went on forever, but apparently didn't list everyone involved.  At the very end the credits said something like "Over 15,000 people were employed to make this movie."  That's a good thing in and of itself I guess, but just think if we could mobilize whatever it takes to make school a positive experience for every child.]

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