The Martian movie is better than the book (and that's OK)

Wired's Angela Watts reports on something that's been rather widely noted with respect to the forthcoming Matt Damon film "The Martian." It, contra to the usual outcome, is markedly better than the novel it's based on.

All together now: heresy!

Film always will be a more efficient way to tell stories. The reason we read, and luxuriate in doing so, is because books provide a beauty in the telling. Decades ago, adapting literature like Gone with the Wind or Hamlet was a way for film to prove its legitimacy as an art—to show it could tell stories as grandly as great novels and plays. But filmmakers now have so many tools—particularly when it comes to sci-fi like The Martian—that movies might be the better way to tell some stories, period.

Heather just read The Martian. The narrative has some slightly dumb references to women and minorities, but—worse!—it fails to make its nerdly details engaging. They're just there, a relentless description of some guy's science project, as dry as the soil on Mars.

The point of huge success is the point where an author's idiosyncrasies, their style, becomes subject to mass approval and judgment. Maybe Andy Weir's style is just not for everyone? Perceived shortcomings in its quality are not, surely, indicative of problems with his chosen medium.

But Watts is really onto something with her thought about the high-detail, competent, unambiguous, slightly-bland style of writing found in popular novels such as Ernest Cline's Ready Player One: they seem intentionally crafted as movie treatments, perhaps because that's simply how we imagine stories now.

However, with the exception of Veronica Roth's Divergent books, most successful YA adaptations have been qualitatively on par with their literary predecessors: Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games series and J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books were both great stories, well told. (The movie and book versions of Divergent are also of similar quality—we'll leave it up to you to define it.)