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Bookworm to filmbuff: The Martian

A deadly storm. Flying debris. One isolated, enterprising astronaut. Andy Weir’s “The Martian,” a 2011 science-fiction novel adapted into a film in 2015 by the illustrious Director Ridley Scott, jumps right into the action.

In the novel, astronaut Mark Watney, a botanist on a NASA expedition, is left stranded on Mars when a deadly dust storm forces his crew to evacuate, presuming him dead and leaving him behind.

“The Martian” has attracted praise for its scientifically accurate portrayal of his fight for survival.

However, these claims fall short by the nature of the storm: a dust storm of such magnitude wouldn’t be possible in Mars’ thin atmosphere — effectively invalidating the plot.

As Watney comes to terms with his isolation, he struggles to maintain hope, yet perseveres in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

For non-STEM viewers, Weir channels Watney’s swashbuckling personality and determination to add accessibility to the plot. Watney’s use of humor to cope with his situation gets laughs every watch. 

In the Hollywood adaptation, Mars is portrayed through sweeping overhead shots, emphasizing its grand scale effectively. But, the cinematography isn’t the only bright spot in the adaptation.

Scott, the director of classic films such as “Alien,” “Blade Runner” and “Gladiator,” mostly sticks to the source material, a rare quality in book-to-film adaptations.

However, this acclaim is violated in one key instance when Watney, played by Matt Damon, finally leaves Mars as the result of an international effort.

Rather than utilizing Weir’s daring but reasonable ending, the movie needlessly dramatizes Watney’s escape. This reduction of scientific problem solving to a Hollywood cliché contradicts what makes “The Martian” so good.

Despite the occasional inaccuracy or dramatization, the positives of the adaptation led it to win two Golden Globes in 2016. “The Martian” presents a rare, enjoyable example of an adaptation done right.

The Martian
The Book
The Movie
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— By Saheb Gulati

Originally published in the March 29 edition in the Octagon.

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