“The Martian”: My One Nitpick

In advance –  I’m assuming you both read the book and saw the movie. If you’re interested in doing either and haven’t yet, do so before you read this post, because I’m discussing the ending.

Let me get everything I loved about the movie out of the way first:

  • The casting was absolutely, dead-on flawless. I wouldn’t change a single actor or actress, the movie had exactly the right people playing exactly the right roles.
  • I was very, very true to the book – if you like the book, you WILL like the movie. Simple as that.
  • It was very funny – I’m happy to report that the book’s sense of humor translated well to the screen.
  • The movie actually improved on the book in one important way: Watney showed a wider range of emotion. This is somewhat defensible in the book because we’re supposedly reading his log journal at the end of each sol, and the one section of the book where Mark switched to an audio log (after the airlock blow-out) is also the section where Mark conveys the most raw emotion. So I suppose it makes sense. But Damon conveys a real sense of despair at times, and this is something the book is missing. Kudos to the director and to Damon for bringing in that element.
  • The two major action set-pieces, the dust storm that strands Mark and the rescue operation at the end, are brilliantly executed. They’re really tense, white knuckle scenes.

Some cool scenes from the book were taken out, which is too bad, but I suppose necessary to fit the book to movie length. I do, however, have one nitpick, and it’s from the rescue operation at the end:

The plan, in both the movie and the book, is for Beck to go out on a tether and grab Watney so he can be reeled back into the Hermes by Johannsen (actually, in the book Beck might be replaced with Martinez and Johannsen with Vogel, unless I’m misremembering, but whatever).

In both book and movie the Hermes crew attempts a cowboy rescue by blowing out the airlock to create thrust, slowing down the ship and giving Mark a chance to grab onto the crew member on the tether. Well and good. The movie goes a little more Hollywood by having Mark still be stuck slightly too far out of reach, forcing him to tear open his suit to create thrust and fly in range of the Hermes tether. This, I have no problem with. It was very well done.

Here is my nitpick: In the book Beck (or Martinez, whatever) is the guy who goes out to grab Watney. This is also the plan in the movie. So why, in the movie, does Lewis change her mind at the last minute and go out instead?

Nothing about the plan changed: The way they got to this point was a little more dramatic than anticipated, but it was still supposed to be Beck’s job to grab Mark. This is what they discussed, and what the crew had been preparing for the entire time they carried out the rescue plan. There was no good reason Beck couldn’t have gone out.

And Lewis had her own job! She was the leader; she wasn’t expendable. It was her job to coordinate things and to make decisions. For her to let her emotions (guilt, fear) influence her decision-making abilities was poor leadership. Weir obviously knew this, which is why he didn’t make Lewis go out on the tether. Everybody had a specific task.

This isn’t a very big deal. It didn’t even ruin the scene for me. It’s a great, well-executed scene. I just wish, in this one instance, they didn’t decide to take unnecessary liberties with the book. It made the rescue scene just a little more distracting to me.

All of that said, that’s honestly the most damning criticism I can come up with. If that’s the worst thing somebody can say about your movie, you know you’ve done something right, and they did. This movie is great – wholeheartedly recommended.