Mark Damon

Movies based on novels provide a different medium for readers to enjoy a story that they initially liked through print. They provide an interesting reinterpretation, whether that’s for better or for worse. We all have watched a movie based off a successful book that was horrendous because it either strayed too far from the book’s plot or was a direct re-telling, just in visual form. However, there have also been some fantastic movie renditions of books that were great in their own way and can definitely stand alone from the novel. I consider The Martian to be one of those films, not only because of the superb acting and the way it stayed true to the original plot while still retaining its own flavor, but also because of the subtle yet deliberate (or not so deliberate) visual choices the director made in order to create a certain mood or emotion, a concept Roger Ebert calls intrinsic weighting in his article “How to Read a Movie.”

Ebert cites an assortment of “laws” or common strategies he has noticed in the compositions of film stills that seem to pop up again and again and invoke certain moods. One of the rules of thumb he mentions is direction and how “right is more positive… the future seems to live on the right” while the left is viewed as more negative. In the scene in which the director of NASA, Teddy Sanders, gives his speech informing the public of Watney’s death, he is seen slightly off center. He stands more to the right, implying that even through tragedy, life moves on. However, he is seen continually looking towards the left of the screen as he gives the sad news.

Although Ebert does not specially mention these, there are many instances of various camera techniques that almost seem to break the fourth wall. For instance, there are scenes in which a steady camera is not used and the cameraman or woman follows Mark around, such as when he is pacing the Hab or doing work. This technique creates a sense of realism and makes the viewer feel like they are actually there with Mark walking around the Hab. The rough and bouncy movement of the camera also creates a sense of urgency, representing his determination to survive. The transitions from watching a screen, such as the TV screen when Sanders gives his speech or the videos that Mark records, to the actual scene that is happening gives the viewer the perspective of both a normal person who would be watching the speech or the logs while also giving a first-hand POV.
Despite these common tendencies found in films, Ebert also acknowledges the fact that “to ‘violate’ them can be as meaningful as to ‘follow’ them.” Since Watney is recording his videos as a log of his experiences, he really couldn’t care less about the composition. He records them as if he is video calling, using a variety of different angles (some where he looks up at a camera hanging from the Hab’s ceiling, some where he records directly in front of his computer). This is obviously a much better method as it is far more realistic and casual.


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