Friday, October 2, 2015

The Martian: Book vs. Movie

I had read The Martian by Andy Weir earlier this year and it was hands-down one of the best reads I'd read in a long, long time. There are so many things I loved about the book.

  1. I adored Mark Watney, who we really only see in his mission logs and in some communications he has with NASA and his crew. He is snarky as hell and I loved it.
  2. Science. Science saves the day and it's freaking amazing and awesome.
  3. The supporting cast. They are smart, driven people who I'm sure all hold higher-level degrees, mostly in the hard sciences.
  4. Did I mention science? 'CAUSE SCIENCE!

After already falling in love with the book because of the plotting and the characters, I realized something that made me fall in love even more. The cast of characters, this group of highly intelligent, highly capable people, are never defined by Weir by their looks, race, or ethnicity. And that? Is really awesome. No one's physical appearance is ever described, so it's left up to the reader to determine how these people looked like. There are obvious context clues from names (Mindy Park as Korean, and Venkat Kapoor as Indian, Bruce Ng as Vietnamese, and Martinez as Hispanic), but for the most park, these characters are blank slates regarding their ethnic backgrounds. They are defined by their names, their jobs, and their competencies.

The other really amazing thing was that the characters' genders are also fairly glossed over. We find out Commander Lewis is a woman because Watney mentions he is part of "her" crew. The fact that the commander of the Ares mission is a woman is no big deal. Weir doesn't focus on the gender of any of the characters, male or female, other than using the correct pronouns and their names. And I loved this. Because the fact that there were women on the mission (one leading the mission), working at NASA, etc. isn't a big deal in the future world of The Martian. It just is.

Which brings me to my thoughts on The Martian, the movie.

I was super excited when I learned there was going to be a movie. I obsessively read the articles, watched the promo spots, and made plans to see the movie with everybody I knew who had read and loved the book. But the one thing I was hesitant about was the casting choices. Which appeared rather ... white.

Disappointingly white. Overwhelmingly white.

Yes, Michael Peña and Chiwetel Ejiofor were cast as Martinez and Kapoor, respectively. I was delighted to see Donald Glover as Rich Purnell. But there was a white woman cast as Mindy Park, taking away some diversity I thought had been assured because of the character's name. Every other major character, with the exception of Bruce Ng and the Chinese scientists, were white.

So the movie missed the opportunity to add additional much-needed diversity not just to Hollywood, but to STEM.

That said, I loved the movie. Adored it. Will be seeing it again this weekend, and nagging everybody I know to do the same. Because at the end of the day, it is a story about science, ingenuity, perseverance, and intellect winning the day. If you loved the book, you will love the movie. It was not 100% faithful, but it was pretty damn close. There were a few things that were cut out, the movie neglected to mention that Watney was an engineer in addition to being a botanist (Why? It would have been so easy to just slip in), and one scene was rewritten to add additional drama. But overall, it was the book translated to the screen in a way that preserved both the story and the spirit, while being entertaining.

And I was heartened to see that while the main cast was not as diverse as I wanted, there was diversity in the background characters/extras.

The Martian is a nerd's movie. I loved it.

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