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The Martian Proves Movies Are Now Better Than Their Books

5 October 2015

From Wired:

A CONFESSION: I didn’t love Andy Weir’s The Martian. Despite all the people telling me at coffee shops/airports/etc. that it was their favorite book, I struggled to get through the prose. (I know, I know…) The story of astronaut Mark Watney and his fully science-enabled quest to stay alive while stranded on Mars was fascinating, but the book’s use of repetitive plot devices and phrasings . . . made it a slog. In short, it was fine—I just thought it needed a good edit.

Ridley Scott’s The Martian is that edit. Freed of Watney’s long monologues and Weir’s deep explanations of botany and chemistry, the movie is far more agile than the book. It’s no less compelling and a whole lot more fun. (At one point, I actually spent an evening doing my taxes just to avoid delving into another chapter of The Martian.) Simply put, the movie is better than the book.

All together now: heresy!

. . . .

The age of fast-and-loose optioning , coupled with the rise of self-publishing—which is how Weir’s novel was noticed—means it’s not only much easier for amateur writers to surface, but for their books to hit the big screen. (See also: Fifty Shades of Grey, theDivergent series.) The thing is, while there are many people with good stories to tell, sometimes their storytelling needs work. But with directors like Scott, who has adapted everything from Philip K. Dick to the Book of Exodus, and screenwriters like Drew Goddard, who adapted The Martian, we’re arguably in the midst of the golden age of book adaptations.

Link to the rest at Wired


79 Comments to “The Martian Proves Movies Are Now Better Than Their Books”

  1. Angela Watercutter is not very intelligent, is she? She certainly doesn’t know her movie history.

    • It would have helped if she’d added the word ‘some’ to her title, as many movies are ‘not’ better than the books that spawned them …

      YMMV of course. 😉

    • Some stories do require at least a triple digit IQ to appreciate. And that goes for movies as well as books.

      • Had to stop and think about that. Then realized you did NOT mean IQ of 999. 101 would do.

        And IQ tests only measure ability to do well on IQ tests.

        Should make the same requirement of presidential candidates.

        • “And IQ tests only measure ability to do well on IQ tests.”

          So true, knew a gal that blew away those IQ tests — but she didn’t realize a washing machine won’t work if you don’t connect it to power/water (and hopefully a drain) …


          “Should make the same requirement of presidential candidates.”

          Can’t, if they’re too smart they won’t want to play hand puppet to the really bright ones actually running things from the background … 😉

      • And some stories/movies require you have the brains of a tossed salad (which is one reason I don’t watch movies with others — they quickly tire of my ‘it doesn’t work that way!’ and other muttering of ‘male cow-chips’) …

        • Teen slasher pics.
          Not an ounce of common sense in the whole cast of characters, otherwise they wouldn’t have a movie.

          • @ Felix

            Who was it that came up with the phrase “idiot script?” Where every character has to be a complete idiot in order for the movie’s plot to move forward.

  2. There are a very few movies that I have enjoyed more than their book counterparts. Forrest Gump would be the very first in line. Lately I have been enjoying the first two of the Maze Runner films while trying to force myself through the books. Still this is and always has been a very subjective topic, not all books are going to be more entertaining for you than the film adaptation. If you enjoy reading then you will most likely enjoy the book more and it will most likely cost less than the movie ticket.

    • The Princess Bride is a much better movie than book in my opinion.

      Stardust is another that I think was a much better movie than book.

      There are a few, but taking a greatly loved book and converting it into a movie is almost always going to be a problem, just from the shear volume of stuff you need to leave out.

      for some books, this improves them, and the Actors can add things in that turn a minor scene into something unforgettable. But in most cases it’s hard to make up for the volume of lost material.

    • Fight Club.
      Lord Of The Rings.
      American Psycho.

      Just a few off the top of my head.

      • Let The Right One In – the original Swedish film.

        The film has a subtle understated quality that works so well. It even implies that the old man who cares for the androgynous child vampire has been a caretaker since boyhood and it’s time to replace him now that he’s failing.

        The book instead makes it clear the old man only recently began caring for the vampire and only because he’s a pedophile and it’s an exchange for services.

        The book also drags quite a bit.

      • I was going to say Fight Club. That’s the only one I can think of that’s so very clearly better than the book.

        I’m about to read The Martian. I liked the movie a lot.

        • If you like audiobooks, the audio version is fantastic. The reader manages all the voices perfectly, and keeps all the math stuff really engaging (I say as someone who not only doesn’t particularly like math, but is primarily a visual learner, so following spoken mathematical descriptions is really difficult).

          ETA: I haven’t seen the movie yet, but the book is absolutely wonderful.

          • So glad to hear about the audio, I just got an mp3 cd of it last week in time for my car’s player to go out and I really wanted to listen to in the car but really want to listen to it now 🙂 I read and loved the book so much that I knew it would be one I would like to have on hand for re-listens but haven’t seen the movie yet.

      • I don’t know about the Fight Club Movie being better. I thought it did an excellent job of following the book up until the end. I actually prefer the ending in the book. Since when has shooting yourself in the face been a solution to get rid of voices in your head? Then Ed Norton is just going to walk it off? That’s where the movie completely lost me. They tried to put a happy face on what should have been a wonderous poopstain of counter culture.

  3. Yes, certainly and obviously, “some.”

    One notable example indelible in my mind is “Jaws.” The movie was riddled with continuity errors and semi-sensical moments, but it was still great. One of my (and most people’s) favs. But the book? Even less sensical and just relentlessly dull where the movie entertained. I still remember how excited I was by the first 2 pages – the description of the shark swimming at night, thinking, ‘oh man, this is going to be great.” And… nope.

  4. Coppola’s The Godfather, great. Puzo’s The Godfather, better.

    Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings, great. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, better.

    I could go on and on. (And on, and on, and on.)


    • As for movies, loved LOTR; hated The Hobbit, once I saw SJ decided to pervert the author’s intention and recast it as LOTR II.

      And yes, it was clickbait, but then so is Wired. I’ve been looking through the last few issues (from the library), and realized that a pretty funny article could be written by taking issues from 10 years before and showing how they puffed technologies that never played out.

      In their latest issue, someone had complained about how they promoted the growing corporate power over workers’ lives, and their editor responded with essentially, “Yeah, but what are you going to do about it? You might as well learn to live with your new overlords.” Screw them.

  5. Gah! YMMV indeed. I loved the botany and science in the book. I mean, this is what surviving on Mars was all about. The character was fun, but he was also brainy and resourceful, and a ~scientist~.

    • I completely agree. 😀

    • Agreed. I loved all those science-y bits. The movie was great, and very faithful to the book, but by necessity they had to leave a lot of stuff out. So I think the book was better, much as I enjoyed both.

    • I also loved all the science in the book. I was especially interested in the oxygen, carbon dioxide part and how that would work. The botany part was kept me reading even though I know next to nothing about botany.

    • All the science is what kept me listening to the book. If he had just turned on his super special atomic food-maker, I would have changed to another book for the drive.

      • Yep. I loved the way he depended on his knowledge of science, but talked about what he was thinking and doing in such a way as not to lose (at least some) readers who didn’t have the same education.

    • Ditto. Loved the science.

    • He also had the answer to every problem and was never really ever threatened. A good book, but it fits right into the ‘space survivor’ subgenre with Apollo 13 and Gravity.

  6. I read The Martian and enjoyed it so much that I re-read it a month after my first read, and again 6 months after that.

    I liked Mark Watney’s “monologues.” They conveyed his character and his courage beautifully.

    And I liked the explanations of the science behind his decision making. I wanted to know more than that he survived. The whole point of the book was how he survived on a planet devoid of food, water, and air – a place that would quickly kill those of us without Watney’s science and engineering background.

    That said…I hope to enjoy the movie also. I don’t expect it will be identical to the book. But if it is as well done as the trailers make it look, it should be good.

    • The whole point of the book was how he survived on a planet devoid of food, water, and air…

      Yes! The tension was amazing. How was he going to survive despite all that and despite catastrophes brought on by trying? The suspense was pretty nearly unbearable. I’m really looking forward to the film.

  7. The book _The Martian_ is typical wiz-bang Space Cadet babble, it’s not intended to make sense to anyone else. The movie has to actually make sense for regular viewers.

    As a rule, I try to get the books that go with movies. Some books are better than the movies, some movies are better than the books. I try to understand why that happens.

    _Field of Dreams_ the movie was better than _Shoeless Joe_ the book. The movie focused the story, where the book was a mishmash that ground to a halt in many places. They basically took a great idea from the book and turned it into a great movie.

    The First two _Harry Potter_ movies were better than the books. The third book/movie were equal. The remaining books were better than the movies.

    John le Carre’s _Tinker Tailor_ and _Smiley’s People_ are great books, and the two miniseries done with Alec Guinness were a joy. The books and the miniseries took their time telling the story. The movie version of _Tinker Taylor_ was incomprehensible.

  8. A movie is the condensed version of the book, in most cases. After all, isn’t the average screen play about 100 pages? That works for some books and doesn’t work for others.

    Typically, when I like a movie better than the book (which isn’t that often) it’s because something really cool cinematically is done – beautiful scenery or amazing special effects for example.

  9. When it comes to cross media adaptations the proper measure of success is whether the result makes sense for that specific medium. And the reason why many great books never make it to the movies (or fail abysmally) is because not every story can be translated into a two/three hour movie.

    In many cases the proper medium to dramatize a story is TV and not the movies.

    (Does anybody think Game of Thrones could ever work as a movie? Or Lensmen?)

    • A Game of Thrones could absolutely work as a movie… but it would be substantially different and piss off book fans.

    • Same for Peter F. Hamilton’s The Night’s Dawn Trilogy, so many fans are waiting for a TV series adaptation, but a movie or even three movies would lose so much from the book…

  10. If anything, it proves that one (1) movie was better than its book to one (1) reviewer. How it could possibly prove anything else is beyond me.

  11. Don’t much care for the article but yes, some movies are better than the books. I’d definitely agree the movie version of The Martian is waaaaaay better than the book. Same with The Princess Bride.
    But then again, some books are about a million times better than the movie.
    And sometimes there is wonderful synchronicity as there is between the book Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro and the movie version directed by James Ivory.

  12. But of course it needed an editor. Duh! It was self-published.


    Yet another attempt to take a dig at a self-published author. Who’s to say Weir didn’t use an editor, or many?

    • And actually, it did have an editor. In his interview with Adam Savage a while back, Weir discussed some of the things he had to change when it was professionally edited. Among other things, he rewrote the ending. (The original ending had a kid ask Watney if he ever wanted to go back to Mars, and Watney asked the kid if he was out of his effing mind. Weir posted it in one of his Reddit AMAs.)

  13. I love people arguing over subjective things. I’m shampoo and I’m better! I go on first and clean the hair! No, I’m conditioner and I’M better! I leave the hair feeling silky and smooth!

  14. “We watched Ridley Scott’s THE MARSHUN to find out if it was better than the book. You won’t believe what happened next.”

  15. I only like it when books become movies which then get novelized which in turn gets the movie treatment, is xeroxed, buried in the back yard for 3 blood moons, and turned into a coloring book. Much better that way!

  16. Complete BS. The title is total clickbait. Books into movies are on a case-by-case basis as to which is better.

    However, most movies are NOT as good as the original book.

    And, hey, it’s Wired — a magazine geared for, and written by, ignorant Millennials with no perspective beyond themselves.

    • “ignorant Millennials with no perspective beyond themselves.”

      And they need to stay off my lawn and pull their pants up and turn the music down and…:-)

      • @ Joseph

        You forgot wearing their baseball caps the correct way! 🙂

        • Ha!

          Truthfully I consider the baseball cap test to be the true test of adulthood.

          Like this:
          Person with hat all askew: “Sup kid?”
          Person with hat on right: “Hello sir” [shakes hand].

          • Actually, I think it’s “S’up, dog?”

            — At least, that’s what I’ve heard ’em say… too many times. 🙁

  17. The only movie that is better than the book is:

    The Wizard of Oz.

    That’s the only exception.

    That’s the title of MY article: All books are proven to be better than their movies.

    • Not true. Every movie made of a John Grisham book is better than the book. IMO. 🙂

      • @ Antares.

        Hmmm, interesting point. Well, I like Grisham’s books, but I do also like the movies, so….I proclaim that one a tie.

        So, it’s still just the Wizard of Oz.

        Well, and maybe the Devil wears Prada. Terrible book.

        And the Exorcist. That was one scary movie.

        But just those.

      • Okay, maybe the Shining. Mary Poppins. The Sound of Music. Jaws.

        But just those.

        If the author gets to generalize, so do I!

    • The Wizard of Oz is not an exception.

      In the book, Glinda was the Good Witch of the South, and Dorothy had to make another journey to find her so that she could learn how to get home to Kansas. In the movie, Glinda was the Good Witch of the North, and could have told Dorothy what the ruby slippers were good for right at the start. She didn’t, though, because she was being a jerk, and probably because she wanted to sic the intruder on the Wicked Witch of the West.

      Again, in the book, the journey to Oz was real. In the movie, it was all just a dream – which is about the most hackneyed and useless ending imaginable. (It works, barely, in the Alice books, because those are exposés of dream-logic more than stories. Anywhere else, forget it.)

      • @ Tom Simon –

        Finally! Someone who wishes to have an intelligent discourse on the Wizard of Oz.

        I think I’ve been waiting for this my WHOLE LIFE.

        First, I agree that the book is charming. And Baum has an amazing imagination, but I find that his style is not all that accessible for many children – just a little detached.

        Second, I agree about the Glinda storyline, culminating in the nonsensical “…If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard..”

        What does that even mean????

        However, the movie’s theme (a slightly different theme from the book), which is:

        the story of a young girl who learns that if you don’t run away from your problems, but instead face them with your brains, heart and courage, you will find that your problems eventually melt away…

        is a universal theme.

        Wrap that up in an insanely entertaining package, including music, visuals, a terrific cast and script, and you have a movie that has been and will be beloved for ages, despite outdated technology.

        • However, the movie’s theme (a slightly different theme from the book), which is:

          the story of a young girl who learns that if you don’t run away from your problems, but instead face them with your brains, heart and courage, you will find that your problems eventually melt away…

          is a universal theme.

          No. The theme of the movie The Wizard of Oz is a girl kills upon her arrival in a new land and teams up with three strange men to kill again. 😉

          • @ Antares –

            That’s a really good point. She’s obviously a psycho, that Dorothy. Throwing things – water, houses. Whatever’s handy.

            Druggie too. “This is your brain on poppies”.

  18. Al the Great and Powerful

    My copy of The Martian has him telling the kid he’d never go back. When did that change, and to what?

  19. I actually find the reverse to be true – more often than not, the movies can’t ever live up to the books.

    The movie (for me) that is infinitely better than the book – Possession (2002). Loved the movie, so I thought I’d obviously love the book even more – what a piece of dreck. I couldn’t even get through the first ten pages.

    • Mine’s “Stardust”. I absolutely love the movie, and will watch it whenever it’s on, whenever I feel like, or if I’m just plain bored. It’s one of the staples of my house’s entertainment. The book? I tried to read it three times and never managed to finish it. At this point I just pretend it doesn’t exist.

  20. Would I be tossed out of the cool guy club if I admitted to liking the TV show Legend of the Seeker better than the Wizard’s First Rule books?

    • Not for liking one better than the other… just for liking one period.

      Nah, I liked them both as well. Goodkind didn’t start grating on me until about book 5.

    • I found the books to be slightly formulaic fantasy in the beginning but I’ll fully admit to enjoying them. Somewhere along the way the author went full politics preach mode, killed off MAGIC in a fantasy universe, and then committed the ultimate writing sin of disrespecting his own characters and plots and just phoning everything in.

      I stopped reading the series after whichever book dealt with the pillars. If he couldn’t be bothered to honor his own characters why would I bother to read about them?

  21. My list of movies that are better than their books, so far, is short:
    The Joy Luck Club
    The Perks of Being a Wallflower
    Little Women
    The Great Gatsby
    A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

    I’m going to add Far From the Madding Crowd even though I haven’t seen the movie yet, because the book bored me to tears and I couldn’t read it.

    • I liked Far From the Maddening Crowd, the movie, but it felt a bit rushed. It needed a longer running time I think.

      • Did you ever see the 1967 Julie Christie version? I remember seeing at least some it when it finally made it to tv when I was a youngster of probably 9 or 10, I have no idea how true it was to the book, I just remember feeling very sad for her, and for some reason remembered bits and pieces of it all these years. I remember being surprised at seeing clips for the new one and it seemed true enough that I recognized it before the title came up! The 1967 production did win some awards and was nominated for a lot more. Its running time was 169 minutes.

  22. Let's just call me anonymous today.

    “Well, and maybe the Devil wears Prada. Terrible book”

    no, no, a thousand times no. I waited the whole Walt Disney treatment of the Devil to see the meltdown at the Paris fasion show – let’s just say it would have been a healthy emotional experience 🙂 yep, let’s just say I had a Miranda in my life.
    I remember watching the extras and hearing I think the producers or directors or both commenting on how many writers they went through to get the right sympathatic treatment for Miranda and wanted to boycott them forever 🙂

    • Well, I’m not saying the movie was perfect, but really the book was terrible.

      I actually got the opposite impression from the book – the real problem was not Miranda, but that the author is not a good employee: very entitled and “too good for the job”.

    • But yes, they did water down Miranda. I heard they wanted to make her ‘seductive’. 🙂

      • Let's just call me anonymous today

        True, you are right, it was not a great book, but having a Miranda as a boss at the height of the book’s then movie’s popularity meant, for me at least, that if only in fiction someone could get their just desserts! I watched about half the movie before I skipped to the end praying for my book finale and being so disappointed I threw the dvd case at the tv :

        BTW, you are definitely right about the Wizard of Oz.

        • @ ljcmat –

          Thanks for the Wizard of Oz vote! 😉

          Yes, I’ve had so many difficult bosses, I understand your frustration at the lack of pay-off in the movie! 🙂

  23. I felt that for the Martian, the movie was one of the most honorable treatment of the book I’d ever watched. I loved the book – even though the science might beat someone down, the character of Watney was so strong that he pulled you through. I read it right after Unbreakable – two books with a similar survival theme – and honestly, I loved The Martian more.

    The movie is a condensed version of the book in the truest sense. Even though it doesn’t display the sheer amount of time that passes as well as the book, it shows off the problem-solving skills and drama well. Weir truly wrote the right book at the right time.

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