As the story goes, a violent storm forces the Ares 4 crew to evacuate their mission on Mars. During their departure, biologist Mark Watney is lost in the chaos and deemed dead. Unknown to his crewmates on their way home to Earth, he's very much alive and must forge survival with scavenged equipment on a desolate planet.
The book's voice is primarily told through Watney's recorded log entries. His challenges to stave off starvation, create water, and make contact with NASA is the driving force of his peril. When he solves one problem, another shows itself in a different or more life-threatening form. Instead of focusing on doom and gloom, author Andy Weir writes Watney as pragmatic and funny. His humor and optimism might be his greatest tool to survive.
Everyone jokes about how many times Hollywood has saved Matt Damon, but for this particular role, he is perfectly cast. In fact I'd go so far as to say he was probably Leo's only true competition in the Oscars race in 2015. Watney is far from unlikable in the book; yes, he's an astronaut who is so smart, resourceful, and clever it would make anyone's heads spin but he is also a guy you could hang out with. Watney's sarcasm could've come across as arrogant, but Damon exudes wit as well as the determination to stay alive, which makes him likable.
However, without his optimistic resourcefulness, I wonder what his personality would've been like otherwise. The one quote, "I'm gonna have to science the shit out of this," sums up a big portion of the book. His log entries are filled to the brim with measurements, calculations, plans, and estimations. He's constantly re-configuring data and strategies, and at points, this made my brain hurt. Often I couldn't exactly picture what Weir was describing. Sometimes it seemed to play out like scroll's worth of jargon I just couldn't follow. Typically survival stories require a little bit of disbelief; we might question what we would do differently but wonder how situations would play out scientifically or sum up insane solutions as pure luck. With The Martian, it's almost entirely necessary to trust the science, math, physics, etc. if you're not so inclined to Google-check inaccuracies. But the story can seem a little too science-y.
This wasn't a major hiccup because the film helped me navigate the story and subplots, and gave me visual aid of what kind of equipment he was using. And like the movie, Weir's use of multiple points-of-views gives balance to Watney's entries. It is foremost Watney's story, but a third-person perspective of NASA discovering his survival and attempting rescue missions offers a breather.
Often with adaptations, us bookworms come out of a movie talking about all the things it's missing. It's difficult to compare both versions because they meet in the middle. Watney faces a few more obstacles on Mars in the former, but nothing vital is missing. NASA employees' sense of humor feels a little too similar to Watney's at times on the page, but in the movie (even though I love the cast) they come across a bit colder than the intended deadpan. The Ares Crew seems more united in the book, whereas in the movie they seem a little disengaged. If a specific quality is missing from one, the other fulfills that slight void, but nothing is overall a major downgrade.
As far as the film goes, director Ridley Scott captures nearly everything from Weir's novel. Where the book might be too technical, the film translates intricate details through the actors. Both have the uncanny ability to make such an extreme quest feel adventurous, dangerous, but hopeful and upbeat. Every challenge Watney faces carries its own weight, and it's his ability to remain sensible and resourceful that makes his journey triumphant. It may be man against nature, but its truly humanity collaborating to support one person.
If I had to choose between the two, my vote is ultimately for the movie. One can watch the movie to scratch the surface of Weir's tale, but use the book to truly dive into deep end if they feel like it. I'm glad I did! (And, yes those are potato chips above ;D)
Book Rating: ★★★
Movie Rating: ★★★
Who Wins: Movie (by a landslide)
Check out my full movie review here
Check out my full movie review here