An Alien Way of Telling a Story

[Spoilers for The Martian]

Hollywood has become very successful at making a profit. The studios have a formula that they stick to for almost all their films. While this may not be a traditional step-by-step guide, it does shape how American films are made. For example, in most movies today, there is a “good versus bad” dynamic. There is almost always a definite and happy ending. However, some of the details in this formula seemed to be challenged recently. There are a lot of changes happening because the way we consume media is going through some of the biggest transformations ever.

Television is moving from cable to online streaming and with that change comes a change in the style and quality of production. Shows like Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad are becoming more and more popular. These shows are made to look and feel like movies. They also play with traditional conventions. There is no longer a good guy or bad guy. We do not always get all our questions answered. A recent film that played with traditional conventions is Jurassic World. It took little things — like a woman running through a jungle in heels — and made fun of them to show how predictable Hollywood has become. With all this change will come new innovations. The Martian is one of those films that pushes the boundaries of what films are usually too afraid to do.

Looking at The Martian without doing too much research will make you think that it’s just another typical Hollywood movie. It has a big budget, a cast full of big stars, was heavily marketed, and is full of action. In reality, this film was breaking tradition before it even became a film. Andy Weir is the author of the novel the film is based on. When writing, he did his research to make sure that all the science was as realistic as possible. It helped a lot that he had a background in computer science and that his father was a particle physicist. The Martian shows how books are changing a lot these days as well. With no luck in getting previous work published by traditional means, Weir decided to self-publish his novel chapter by chapter for free on his website. After his novel gained some traction, fans demanded that he publish it as an e-book. It became a bestseller soon after.

Many novels that get transferred to the big screen see changes in their plot. Essentially, they go through the “Hollywood process.” Plot points, characters traits, and other details are changed so that the story becomes a film that “we all expect.” While The Martian is not a truly pure transfer, the film kept most of what made the book unique when compared to other typical Hollywood plots.

There are two big details that one may not notice while watching the film: the first is that no one in the film dies. Now, let’s take a minute to look at the type of films that do not have deaths and the types of films that do have death. Every action movie has death. Every war movie has death. Adventure movies have death. Almost all summer blockbusters have death. Films that do not have death are usually comedies or children’s movies. Even those have death sometimes, too. The Martian is first and foremost a space exploration movie. It deals with visiting foreign and violent territories. It deals with opposing political ideals. There are plenty of moments that could have ended in the death of a character. It is a very progressive decision to keep everyone in the movie from dying.

The other big surprise was that there was no “bad guy.” There wasn’t even a character that served as a vague antagonist similar to those in Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad. This was the biggest thing that struck me after viewing the film. Usually, films have a straightforward good versus bad scenario, or a situation that leaves the audience to decide who the real bad guy was.

Going into The Martian, one would expect the important NASA representatives to end up being the bad guys. While they did seem very stern and less concerned than the rest of the characters, NASA representatives like Jeff Daniels’ character actually just play the role of responsible businessmen. The only antagonist that one could pick out would either be Mars or the internal struggle of Matt Damon’s character to survive. In the end, the whole world came together to help out Matt Damon’s character.

The next few years of film will see huge degrees of change. It’s a different world than it was even ten years ago. Technology is forcing media to change. Quality and innovation in media is being pushed now more than ever. The Martian proves that even Hollywood films can stray from the typical American blockbuster formula. The film is doing well in the box office, and this will only encourage more films to take science seriously and not be afraid to be different.

— Miguel Gonzalez, Film Blogger

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