Film has become a prominent form of storytelling. Just as a book can be read, movies can be analyzed frame by frame in the context of a story to enhance plot, theme, and overall atmosphere. Roger Ebert and Howard Higman have given the name of cinema interruptus to the process of “reading” a movie by stopping and evaluating frames periodically. Utilizing this technique for The Martian, one can see the complexity and intrinsic weighting that Ridley Scott used to capture the experience the book provides in the form of a movie. While watching the film, the use of space, and the colors and filters stood out to me. Elements so small and negligible to the overall film had a huge impact on the atmosphere of the movie. For example, the environment on Mars was depicted as a vast expanse of vibrant orange rock and dirt. This was strongly contrasted by the environment of the scenes depicting the actions of NASA, specifically during the crowded press conferences. The stark difference between the number of people in the press conferences and the overhead camera angles of untouched Mars land, only inhabited by Mark Watney further demonstrated his isolation. Additionally, the scenes on Mars almost entirely consisted of the orange landscape, which was contrasted by a blue filter that was used during the press conferences. On several occasions, during the press conferences, immediately following the depictions of the barren Mars terrain, it can be noted that a blue filter was put in place. This filter alters the atmosphere toward a more analytical and cold tone which further contrasts life on Earth from Mars. I wonder if the audience would feel a greater need for saving Watney, become closer to the plot, and ultimately Mark Watney’s character, if the dark filter was used in the opposite way to make the Mars landscape less vibrant and more desolate/ cold in comparison to life on earth.
Another important aspect of creating a film from a book is condensing the text down so the story retains the same plot and emotions. While Scott does a good job of staying true to the text, there are several major differences I noticed. One change is how the book and the movie convey Watney’s average day. In the book,Weir describes Watney’s day repeatedly to the point where it almost becomes a rigid schedule of tasks including checking the HAB’s components and dusting of the solar panels. In the movie, however, there is less of a sense of routine and more problem solving packed with excitement. While it is reasonable that Scott cut out repeated scenes of Watney doing his checks due to the time constraint, an aspect of realism is lost as a result of the missing protocols that would be in place. The most interesting difference between the movie and the book occurs in the form of NASA’s interaction with China. In the book, Weir writes of a clear political edge China places on helping the US in the form of getting a Chinese scientist on Mars. Alternatively in the movie, China is depicted as a hero for helping to save Watney with the booster from their rocket, and appear to be doing so solely in the interest of scientist and humanity. I speculate that this change was made in the interest of business. In making China the hero, it would be more likely that the country and its citizens would support the movie potentially increasing sales.
The challenge of transforming a book into a movie lies in following a storyline with a time constraint. The true key in recreating a story for the theatres is to convey the story without explicitly stating what is happening. It has been noted that one major element in this process is intrinsic weighting, and other small elements including camera angles, use of light, character positioning, and many more all amounting to a great movie.