Matt Damon survives on Mars in The Martian

The Martian author Andy Weir talks about the upcoming movie and "MacGyver on Mars"

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Sep 24, 2015, 4:14 PM EDT

Andy Weir is the author of hard science fiction novel The Martian, which started its life as a self-published book, then worked its way up the New York Times best-seller list and into the hands of Hollywood producers. The movie based on Weir’s book, starring Matt Damon and directed by Ridley Scott, will hit theaters on Oct. 2, 2015. 

So, what does Weir think about the film version of his book? And could he live after being stranded on Mars, as his protagonist does? I spoke to Weir about the movie, as well as his chances of survival on the Red Planet.  

What did you think of the movie based on your novel, The Martian?

Obviously, I’m incredibly biased, but I think it’s a really good movie. When you’re writing a book, there’s not a lot of exposition you can [use to] describe the magnificent desolation of a place like Mars. The mountains in the distance? They’re red. And then there’s some hills in the foreground. They’re red, too. 

If you do more than a paragraph or two of that, no matter how good a writer you are, the reader is just going to throw the book over their shoulder. Grand, sweeping vistas are practically [Ridley Scott’s] trademark. The visuals [were] something that couldn’t be done in the book and was done beautifully in the movie.

How did you feel when you learned Ridley Scott was going to be directing the movie based on your book?

I was pretty excited by that. I wondered, "Am I in a coma and just kind of fantasizing about all these things?"

How different is the movie from your version?

They had to pull stuff out, because otherwise the movie would be 10 hours long. But they picked the right things to remove, things that could be modularly taken out without [affecting] the over-arcing plot. I think it was a fantastic job.

What kind of research did you do?

I’d say over the three years I spent writing the book, I probably spent half my time researching. I didn’t know anyone in aerospace at the time at NASA or JPL. I do now. 

All my research was just Google. Well, that and a lifetime of being a space dork.

With all of that research, do you now feel you could survive being stranded on Mars?

Do I think I, personally, could handle it? No, I’d probably die. I don’t have the psychological makeup to handle that kind of stress. I’d fall apart. 

In the novel, protagonist Mark Watney handles his situation better than that: He never falls apart. Was that an intentional decision? 

That was on purpose. That wasn’t the story I wanted to tell. I didn’t want it to be a deep emotional story of a man’s crippling fight against loneliness. I hate decompression scenes. The audience can decompress in their own time. I like plot-based stories. Basically, I wanted MacGyver on Mars. 

Did you see the XKCD comic about your book?

When I saw XKCD mention The Martian, I contacted Randall Monroe and said, “Hey I’d love a printout of that comic with your autograph and I’ll trade you a signed copy of The Martian for it.”

I haven’t gotten it yet.


Watney survives on potatoes. Later in life, will he be able to eat a potato again?

Probably not. In fact, I had an after-credit scene in mind that I pitched to the studio: After the credits are over, I wanted to show Watney at a McDonalds or Burger King. “I want a Big Mac and a chocolate shake.” And they’re, like, “OK, you want fries with that?” “No.” “It’s only 32 cents extra.” And he’s, like, “No fries.” But they didn’t go for it.