The Martian (the movie) by Ridley Scott

Everyone who knows me knows I have strong philosophical objections to corporate movie-making (where a large committee is making decisions in order to maximize revenue).  Why waste my time when there are so many books to read, and auteur movies to see?  But The Martian was such a pleasure to read that I agreed to go with family.  Normally, it is something I would just wait to see on an airplane when I had 10 hours to kill.

It is, indeed, a perfectly fine movie to see on an airplane.  There is not much reason to say anything else.  But since I enjoyed the book, let me put out why I think the movie is merely an airplane movie.

  • A theme of the book was just how many calculations you/me/we have to do in engineering type situations.  That is really lost in the movie. Matt Damon occasionally glances at a computer and also counts how many potatoes he has, but really that is about it.  Especially a pity when he has to make water: a scene that could have been played slowly and carefully to explain the chemical reactions involved was instead played totally for laughs as if “chemistry really is about harmlessly blowing up stuff.”
  • A theme of the book was about NASA bureaucracy and leadership (and implicitly other big organizations).  With Jeff Daniels as the head of NASA, obviously that theme was going nowhere in the movie.
  • A theme of the book (to me) was the more complicated emotions of regret (the commander) and loneliness.  They are basically given one sentence in the movie.  Instead, more time than necessary is spent on “feeling good” shots.

Real movie-making would have been for Ridley Scott to have talked with Andy Weir and said:

The fans here have read the book. They liked the book.  They do not need to see a Hollywood version of the book. Let’s make something really great.  Let’s make a four hour movie where the first two hours are the book, but then let’s have him not get caught by the team, and he drifts off into space and dies in two minutes (and let’s film that in real time) and let’s make another two hours be about the emotional fallout for our central cast.

About mkevane

Economist at Santa Clara University and Director of Friends of African Village Libraries.
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