The Martian

"The movie is never as good as the book."
Actually... not never.
The Martian just cleared that bar.
And in an even more amazing, and seemingly impossible twist on that thing everybody knows, not only is The Martian movie as good as The Martian book, The Martian movie is as good a movie as The Martian book is a book.
I realize that sentence is hard to parse. Maybe go back and re-read it? I've spent 30 minutes on that sentence, trying to communicate that thought but I need to get on with the rest of this post.
Put another way: I declared that The Martian (novel) was the best hard science fiction novel I had ever read. It is not a perfect book, but it is an outstanding book that does "book things" brilliantly.

I'm now declaring that The Martian, (movie) is the best hard science fiction movie I have ever seen. It is not a perfect film, but it is an outstanding film that speaks the way only a film can, and uses the medium in ways that the very best films do.
High praise, I know.
I've never seen book-to-film translation work this well before. I thought it was impossible, frankly. Now I know that it can be done, and I look at it and wish I'd been a part of it. The Martian is a magnificent achievement, and I have to content myself with watching it and gushing over it.
If you haven't read the book, it's a great book. Go read it! Do you want to see the movie first? Go! See the movie! It will not undermine your enjoyment of the book. Sure, whichever one you consume first will provide spoilers, but that doesn't really matter.
Now, back to that "best" claim I made...
We could argue definitions forever. What distinguishes hard science fiction from regular fiction set in believable near-future technological settings? Down that road you'll find only a forest of nitpicks and misery and not much movie-enjoying. When I say The Martian is the best hard SF movie ever, I'm stacking it up against films like Gravity, Interstellar, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Moon. There are a number of techno-thrillers that also qualify, including this year's Ex Machina, and last year's Transcendence
The Martian is a better hard SF movie than all of those.
2001: A Space Odyssey is a more important movie, and carries a lot of weight, but have you watched it recently? I love the thought of that movie, but can't sit through it.
Gravity is a more daring movie, arguably more artistic for its use of a tiny cast and lots of silence. To my mind it's the closest contender, but the power of The Martian's ensemble cast puts it over the top.
Insterstellar doesn't come close. Cool moments, and I liked what it tried to do, but ultimately it was a preachy time travel paradox story, and as pretty as it was, it lost my interest by the end.
Moon? Powerful, and thought provoking, along with Transcendence and Ex Machina. The Martian says nothing about identity or singularity, but what it says about knowing science to survive speaks louder, at least to me, than the cautionary tales do.
I don't often put this kind of stake in the ground. I'm sure more experienced film critics, students of cinema, and assorted experts by other names will argue convincingly against its placement. I suspect, however, that those experts will better serve their fields by dissecting The Martian in an attempt to determine how great books can be turned into great movies going forward. "Best" is hard to quantify. Answering the question "why did this movie work so well?" is easy, by comparison, and more important to address.
The Martian enters my 2015 rankings at #1, and when I look at the line-up for the rest of the year I'm pretty confident that it will keep that spot.
(cross-posted from
(ADDENDUM: Sandra and I saw The Martian in 3D. It was stunningly beautiful. There were a couple of moments where the 3D render was weird, but Sandra didn't notice them. I wear progressive lenses, so it's possible the issue really was just me.)


I was pretty sure I didn't actually need a cinematic event to convince me not to put climbing  Everest on my bucket list, but I'm extra convinced now.
The film was powerful, and beautiful, and tragic. The various accounts of May 10, 1996's disastrous Everest ascents have appeared in at least half a dozen books, but I doubt the books can convey the story in the way IMAX 3D can. The filmmakers used some cinematic shorthand to make the tale fit a single sitting, of course, but I think they did the story justice.
I came home with a nice feeling regarding my own objectives in life. Climbing to the summit of a really tall mountain is an obvious sort of "look at me" thing, but the overwhelming majority of human people shouldn't need that specific accomplishment to feel complete. It serves as a nice symbol, and let's just leave it at that while we get on with doing the things that are important to us.
Everest's emotional arc pretty much precluded record-setting "fun," but I did enjoy the film. It enters my list at #17.
(cross-posted from

It's Time to Get Back to Work

I'm back from the Caribbean.

This was the first cruise Sandra and I have taken. We had a great time, and will be taking more of these in the future. For now, I have a huge pile of work to get back to. Except it's Tuesday, so I'm seeing a matinee of Everest in IMAX 3D, for $5.00.

Nothing encourages bargain hunting quite like spending a week on a cruise ship.

I’m Sorry. That Will Have To Wait Until I Return from The Caribbean.

This Saturday Sandra and I fly to Florida, and from there embark upon a Caribbean cruise with our friends from Writing Excuses, and about a hundred fellow writers.
The event is the 2015 Out of Excuses Writing Workshop and Retreat. We've done this twice before, but this is our first time taking it to the seas with a larger crowd. I'm excited, and a little anxious.
I need to finish scripting, penciling, and inking a week of comics before I depart, and I must also read some things that require critiquing, and front-load myself with materials for Planet Mercenary so I can get some work done.
I've been led to understand that internet connectivity aboard ship is something that is paid for in dollars-per-byte, in much the same way that my 1972 Buick Electra 225 (link: a photo of one that was not mine) measured its fuel economy in dollars-per-mile. For this reason I'm going to be disconnected most of the time.
(Note: I got rid of the Buick in 1987, long before its value as a "classic car" could be cited as a justification to offset the incredible expense of driving something that seemed to be about as long as a cruise ship. Parallel parking that thing required two tug boats and a call to the USCG.)
Which brings me to the title of the article. Whatever it is that you might be asking, my stock answer is "I'm sorry. That will have to wait until I'm back from the Caribbean."
I'll be getting as much mileage from that line in the next five days as I got from the Buick for the entire time it was mine.
(UPDATE: No, I will NOT be present at Salt Lake Comic Con. Given the choice between setting up a table and camping in a giant concrete box full of 100,000 people, or a Caribbean cruise, I opted for the cruise.)

The Transporter: Refueled

Let's get this out of the way.  The Transporter: Refueled, is 2002's The Transporter, rebooted. It's not really a refueling of the franchise, and I can't help but think "booting" as that thing with the wheel lock that allows parking enforcement to impound a car in place while they wait for a tow-truck.
There came a point in the movie when I had the feeling that it had been going on too long, because I was getting kind of bored. I checked my watch. That was the 68-minute mark. This is a good litmus test for a movie that is failing to entertain me.
We have a kitchen-sink arsenal of "stylish action movie" tropes here: mysterious femmes fatales, murderous Eastern European mobsters, career prostitutes who look like supermodels, a grizzled ex-spy, the French Riviera, impossible vehicle physics, and an amoral hero who is very good at everything he does.
In this stylish action movie the filmmakers fuse an underdog heist with the high-concept of  2002's The Transporter. Our overpaid, overdressed, over-trained automobile courier gets drawn into a scheme that runs contrary to his contractual code, and of which he is merely a player, not a planner.
How well does it work? There were some really cool moments in the film, like the hydrant scene from the trailers which is what got me to plunk down money for tickets. Ultimately it was too linear and predictable for a heist, and there were not enough car scenes for the Transporter franchise. The villains were cardboard cutouts, our female leads were presented in a way that made them unfortunately interchangeable, and the extremely skilled actor who was told to fill Jason Statham's shoes seemed to be doing everything right with the part, while not actually seeming right FOR the part.
A three-word summation of the film's failures is "style over substance." The Transporter: Rebooted falls below my Threshold of Disappointment, entering my 2015 list ranked at #23, a position that suggests it was not as much fun as Minions, but was more enjoyable than the numerical F-twins, Fantastic Four and Furious Seven.
(Note: Several of this year's films have played directly into the super-spy genre: Spy, The Man from Uncle, Kingsman: the Secret Service, Mission Impossible—Rogue Nation, American Ultra, Hitman: Agent 47, and now The Transporter: Refueled. They're not interchangeable, but if I wanted to ruin the genre for someone, I'd make them watch all of those during a movie-marathon weekend.)
(cross-posted from
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