We’re kicking off the Oscar fortnight with a look at this year’s Best Picture contenders, pitting similar movies against each other in our own Battle of the Best (Picture). Next up: The Martian vs Room (Note: Spoilers ahead.)
Both of these movies, adapted from books that I read and enjoyed, portray people trapped in situations that require them to use their wits and ingenuity to escape their fates. In Room, Brie Larsen coaches her five-year-old son through a plan to save them from their creepy captor. In The Martian, Matt Damon rocks botany and math to save himself from death on Mars.
What worked: In both movies I was terrified they wouldn’t be saved, even though I knew they would. Room deftly showed that rescue doesn’t always lead to salvation while The Martian showed that it can. Extra points to The Martian for demonstrating how awesome science is, when in the book all that science mumbo jumbo was good for was skimming to get to the better parts.
What didn’t: In Room the book, the wonder of a five-year-old exposed to a bigger life felt more creative and genuine, even though Jacob Trembley, who plays Jack, was robbed of a nomination for his performance. Plus, there were a few plot points left out of the movie that would have enhanced the story – small but important details. In The Martian their epilogue footage, showing a Hollywood ending for everyone, wasn’t in the book and didn’t need to be in the movie.–CKB
Room and The Martian tell stories of people trapped in dire circumstances: a young woman (Ma) and her five-year-old son Jack held prisoner in a backyard shed; and a scientist astronaut (Mark Watney) who’s left for dead on Mars. Both characters rely on instinct and some pretty risky ingenuity to keep themselves alive and sane, and in both movies, it works.
Emma Donoghue, who wrote Room, adapted her novel for the script, and props to her for both. The things I loved about Room as a reader were right up there on the screen: slowly unfolding horror as you understand what exactly the room is; the habit Jack has of greeting ordinary objects (Bed, Dresser, Wardrobe) as if they’re friends; the heartbreaking struggle for Ma as she tries to adjust to freedom. At times the scenes with her parents veer off into melodrama, but Joan Allen and William Macy (who play her parents) do a lot with a little and help make Ma’s struggles more than one-dimensional. It’s a tough movie, but a good one. The book might be better.
Mark Watney on the other hand relatively breezes through his trouble on Mars. The best part of The Martian is how it imagines life on the planet – it honestly looks like he’s living in a dome in Area 51, only colder and there’s no food. Matt Damon keeps Watney’s character funny, resourceful and upbeat despite his circumstances. The script veers off into schmaltz at the end (which is different than the book), but by eliminating the overwhelming scientific detail that weighs down the novel, the screenwriters create a raucous, entertaining glimpse into a world that soon could be very real.–EFH
Unanimous winner (by a hair): The Martian