Martian Child (2007)

(On DVD, January 2011) I come to Martian Child from a somewhat different perspective that those who approach it as a straight-up adoption drama.  After all, I have read and enjoyed David Gerrold’s 2003 autobiographical novel that expanded the novelette on which the film is based.  The novel skirts a bit with science-fiction content, but doesn’t depend on it, and the movie is even firmer in its mainstream affiliation.  John Cusack makes for a sympathetic protagonist as a widower choosing to adopt a difficult child.  The adult is a science-fiction writer; the kid thinks he’s from Mars: the rest is a mixture of funny moments and poignant sequences all leading to the expected emotional catharsis.  It’s as routine as a film of this kind can be, that is to say that it hits all of the expected targets along the way and never feels as anything but a Hollywood movie.  The details are interesting, though, and SF fans with a bit of knowledge about the field will laugh themselves silly at the portrayal of the SF writer as a superstar.  Those with memories of Gerrold’s work won’t fail to notice, however, that Cusack is not playing Gerrold, and that significant elements of the plot have been changed –most notably that Gerrold is gay, while the film’s protagonist is not.  Still, don’t assume any vast betrayal of the author’s vision: Gerrold himself appears (alongside his adopted son) in one of the DVD’s featurettes, and the merits of the written story in portraying a difficult adoption process have been generally preserved.  While the film doesn’t amount to much more than a routine role for Cusack and a manipulative TV-movie-of-the-week drama, it is interesting in its own way, and the filmmakers certainly deliver what they intended.  The DVD includes a few interesting featurettes, as well as an audio commentary that’s as mildly entertaining as the film itself.

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