1536: The Martian
Title text: I have never seen a work of fiction so perfectly capture the out-of-nowhere shock of discovering that you've just bricked something important because you didn't pay enough attention to a loose wire.
This trailer for The Martian was released on Monday, June 8, 2015, two days before this comic, although a teaser "viral" trailer had been released the previous day. The film, starring Matt Damon (The Bourne Identity), is directed by Ridley Scott (Alien). It was released in the United States on October 2, 2015.
The Martian is based on a book of the same name by Andy Weir. The book is very popular among nerds. The plot is a cross between the film Apollo 13 and the plot of the novel Robinson Crusoe — but just on Mars.
Cueball is telling White Hat about this trailer and the book, thus White Hat asks if he should read it. Cueball then describes a scene from Apollo 13: You know the scene in Apollo 13 where the guy says "we have to figure out how to connect this thing to this thing using this table full of parts or the astronauts will all die?" And he then tells White Hat that The Martian is like that the whole way through. What is actually said in the mentioned scene is: We gotta find a way to make this fit into the hole for this using nothing but that. The first part being a large square box and the other a smaller cylinder.
The film Apollo 13 is based on the true historical event of the Apollo 13 incident where the astronauts find themselves in a damaged spacecraft. They evacuated from the Apollo Command Module, losing all its life support systems, to the Lunar Module which was designed only for two people for two days instead of three people for four days. One issue the crew faced was a buildup of carbon dioxide. In order to resolve the issue, the crew needed to find a way to attach a square-shaped air-cleaning cartridge from the command module to the circular receptacle of the lunar module: literally fitting a square peg into a round hole. In one brief scene, the Mission Control staff gather together a box of items equivalent to what the crew would also have on-board and sit down with the mandate to figure out how the astronauts can connect the two with the items available to them. In that case, the ground crew took on the task of trial and error given the availability of backup supplies in case they damaged or destroyed some of the supplies. Once a working solution was devised, specific instructions were relayed to the astronauts. Cueball suggests that The Martian essentially consists primarily of the type of problem-solving shown in that scene (as was suggested by the author, Andy Weir, in this interview). The Apollo 13 scene is actually referenced in the book, when the Matt Damon character says "CO2 isn't a problem. (...) All systems use standard filters (Apollo 13 taught us important lessons)."
In the final panel, White Hat, who probably would not be so interested in this kind of story, wonders how a novel based on that kind of seemingly cerebral and procedural problem-solving became a big-budget film starring Damon. Big-budget films are generally films with a great deal of special effects and often also action sequences likely to draw big audiences — and to gain big returns. Matt Damon has become a high-profile big-budget star known for action films like the Bourne film series.
The title text is a reference to a particular part of The Martian's story: The astronaut stranded on Mars has previously established communications with Earth by repurposing the Pathfinder space probe that NASA landed on Mars in 1997. While working on another piece of equipment, he accidentally subjects the probe to an electrical short-circuit, destroying its electronics and "bricking" it. "Bricking" is a term in consumer electronics which essentially means to cause an electronic device to become non-functional and essentially no more useful than a "brick". The term is commonly used in respect of an unrecoverable failure of software and often a corruption of firmware. An unexpected "bricking" can be very surprising, and in a case where the item is critical, could be devastating. This bricking scene from the book was left out of the movie.
On the day the movie was released in the US Randall went to see it and released this comic about it: 1585: Similarities.
- [Cueball is sitting at a desk using a computer and White Hat walks in.]
- Cueball: Ooh, trailer for The Martian!
- White Hat: What's that?
- Cueball: Movie of a book I liked.
- White Hat: Should I read it?
- [Cueball pivots on chair and turns away from computer to face White Hat.]
- Cueball: Depends. You know the scene in Apollo 13 where the guy says "we have to figure out how to connect this thing to this thing using this table full of parts or the astronauts will all die?
- White Hat: Yeah?
- [Cueball pivots on chair again and resumes using computer while talking. White Hat looks at his smart phone.]
- Cueball: The Martian is for people who wish the whole movie had just been more of that scene.
- White Hat: How on earth did that become a big-budget thing with Matt Damon?
- Cueball: No idea, but I'm so excited.
In a video interview by Adam Savage with Andy Weir the author of The Martian says that his goal was to make the whole book like the mentioned scene from Apollo 13 - exactly what the comic is saying. The video was posted on YouTube the day after the xkcd comic.
In the end, The Martian likely didn't disappoint the big-budget movie makers, grossing more than $630 million against a budget of $108 million.
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