Last night, I watched a movie called Red Planet (absolutely no relation to the Heinlein classic). In fact, having forgotten how bad it was, I rewatched it; I first saw it some years ago. But some things struck me this time around.
I suspect you’re also familiar with the 2011 novel/2015 movie The Martian. Let’s run down some comparisons.
The basic plots of the films differ greatly, but some of the plot elements…
Red Planet: Astronauts stranded on Mars, no food, no communications. Finally pared down to one survivor. Everyone thinks they’re dead because they have no working communications. The mothership is going to abandon them and return to Earth.
The Martian: Um… ditto.
Red Planet: The survivors search out an old, old Mars probe and use its radio to make contact with Earth.
The Martian: Yep.
Red Planet: The last survivor makes his way to an old Russian Mars probe that has a return vehicle.
The Martian: The survivor makes his way to a new Mars return vehicle.
Red Planet: The survivor has to strip down the return vehicle to make it light enough to take him to orbit.
The Martian: The survivor has strip down the return vehicle to make it light enough to intercept the rescue ship.
Red Planet: During ascent, the upper hull is ripped away exposing the suited-up astronaut to space.
The Martian: The actual hull plates were removed, but the tarp rips away during ascent.
Red Planet: The astronaut doesn’t quite reach the ship, so the rescuer goes out on a tether to reel him in.
The Martian: Here we go again.
And I wouldn’t have thought about this, because the context and timing differs, but all in all…
Red Planet: The survivor needs power (to activate the return vehicle). He salvages a nuclear battery from a probe they brought with them.
The Martian: The survivor needs a mobile power source, so he salvages a nuclear battery from the fuel processing system.
That’s a lot of parallels. It could be coincidence. Although there are some filmmakers who specialize in rip-offs (Independents Day comes to mind). I thought Red Planet might be one of those; I figured it came out shortly after The Martian.
Nope. It was released in 2000, eleven years before Weir’s novel, fifteen before the movie.
Any one of those coincidences could be explained away as “Well, how else would he do it?” but all of them together is suspect. I’ve never met Weir, but from reading he doesn’t strike me as someone who would deliberately plagiarize. Maybe he saw Red Planet and, like me, tried to forget because it really is that bad. But subconsciously those little plot elements might’ve been still hovering in the back of his mind.
Don’t get me wrong. The Martian is a good story. The film is better written and acted than Red Planet. The plot makes far more sense. And while those elements in Red Planet just sort of magically work, Weir’s character has to work at it, and accomplishes things realistically; why it worked (or didn’t) is explained rationally.
Meh. If it was accidental plagiarism, Weir pre-did his penance for it just sitting through Red Planet. And I’m now probably good to go for entry to Heaven for sitting through it twice.
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