This is a review of “The Martian” — the movie, not the book. Highly opinionated, full of spoilers. You’ve been warned.
Russian version of this review is posted here:
So, let me start with this: I love the book. I even made my own Russian translation, for my family and friends, and got a lot of fun in the process.
And I really dislike the movie. Here is why:
1. It’s not really creative. Scott’s approach to making this movie was, apparently, to take the book, boil it for a while to make it shrink enough, add just a few extra bits, and put on screen.
2. Unfortunately, this extra bits he added contradict everything. Specifically:
2.1. “Sojourner”, which serves as a pet for Watney. It never worked in the book. And that’s exactly the reason why they had to use hexadecimal; the only moving thing that “Pathfinder” could control was it’s own camera. Should “Sojourner” work as intended, they would use it’s wheels to output information — and the book states this explicitly.
2.2. Final rescue. The thing is, in the book the Hermes crewmembers fit together perfectly. They know each other’s capabilities, and they trust each other completely. More on that:
2.2.1. Lewis could not pull Beck from his mission and go to space by herself. She is a commander; he is a zero-gravity specialist. If anybody can do it — it’s him. If she thought she can do better than him, that would be in the original plan.
2.2.2. And Watney could not violate her order, leave his seat, and meet her in space, IronMan-style. Yes, he is quite capable of making decisions when he is alone; and he does not consider NASA paper-pushers as human beings; but, as he states himself in the book, if Lewis were there, on Mars, with him — he would do as she says, without questioning.
2.3. I’m not sure where this belongs to: additions or removals. Let it be here. Anyway, in the book there is a moment when Watney muses about laws on Mars, and mentiones that nobody gave him an explicit permission to board the MAV. And nobody can give him such a permission before he boards it, because, by accident, he lost contact with Earth, and can’t restore it. But in the movie they are discussing this issues ON EARTH. Because there was no accident in the movie, he is still in contact with Earth, and he EXPLAINED all this to NASA. So — why exactly didn’t they GIVE him this permission?
2.4. Mitch’s resignation — what was that? Were they so desperate to kill off Sean Bean? In the book, Mitch explains that NASA, to avoid scandal, would cover up the mutiny on Hermes and pretend that Rich’s plan was their decision. That means that everybody — including Mitch — is safe. And it answers the question: were Lewis and Martinez court-martialed? No, they weren’t.
3. A lot of stuff got removed. Now, I understand that it’s impossible to squeeze the whole book into one movie, and that something has to be sacrificed. But there were some very nice moments that make the story much more compelling:
3.1. Beth Johanssen, while discussing with her father the danger of them missing the resupply probe and dying of starvation, tells him that others might die, but not her. Because others decided not to wait a month until they run out of food, and take the pill, so that she would get all the food intended for them — and four perfectly edible pieces of meat.
3.1.1. Weir’s astronauts plan there every move. As Johanssen herself states, they always have a plan B. Well, this is their plan B, for the bleakest possible outcome. By the way, all Watney’s actions are actually prefaced with calculations.
3.1.2. At the same time, astronauts can come up with solutions that no normal person in a normal situation would be able to. Because they are very special persons in a very special situation. And this plan for Johanssen kinda foreshadows the insanely awesome stunt Lewis and her crew perform at the end.
3.1.3. And astronauts are ALWAYS trying to wrest at least a partial victory from nature. In this case — to save at least one of them.
3.2. In the movie the airlock disaster serves one and only purpose: it severely limits the time available to Mark. That’s it. All Mark’s struggle with sealing the airlock is gone, his attempts to seal the space suit are reduced to a few patches of duct tape, his dash to the deflated Hab, where everything is a mess after the explosive decompression — thrown out. And, by the way, the airlock itself, which in the book had a size of a phone booth, is much bigger in the movie. This could make a very intense, claustrophobic scene — but no.
3.2.1. Watney’s actions in the airlock are a perfect example of this “plan first, act later” approach, despite having a severe time limits.
4. And the main thing. In the book Watney is quite a funny guy; according to the NASA psychologist, under stress he tends to joke more. The humor is a vital part of the novel’s appeal. In the movie he turns to a dull, talentless Matt Damon.