This morning brought us a new look at what could wind up being one of the best movies of the fall. Ridley Scott’s The Martian launched a brand new trailer in the early hours, and it makes the film look equal parts fun and thrilling – telling the story of an astronaut played by Matt Damon who finds himself stranded on the surface of Mars and forced to use his intelligence and ingenuity to survive. If the preview whet your appetite for the movie, you’re definitely going to want to read about the special footage screening and Q&A that I attended this week.
Yesterday, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a special press event in Los Angeles where Matt Damon, Ridley Scott, author Andy Weir, NASA’s Planetary Science Division Director Dr. Jim Green, and astronaut Drew Feustel talked extensively about The Martian, and revealed some great info about the movie’s development. Read on to learn some cool stuff about the upcoming sci-fi feature!
Where Ridley Scott Sees The Martian Fit Into His Sci-Fi LegacyRidley Scott is what many would call a legend of science-fiction, having directed two of the most undeniably influential films in the genre: Alien and Blade Runner. This begs the question of where exactly The Martian fits into that legacy. According to the director, it really is his attempt to make a futuristic film that is more grounded in actual science. Said Scott,
The challenge is sci-fi is mostly fantasy. What was really attractive about this was the total reality of the situation. There’s a movie I like quite a lot, The Right Stuff, which really got into the early days of the astronauts, and while this is not the same at all, I loved the reality of the situation.
It was obviously that strive for reality that led Ridley Scott to contact NASA about making The Martian as realistic as possible. And while there are certainly some fictional elements that have been made up, I can confirm having seen a good amount of the movie that it totally sells you on its procedures.
The Gravity Isn't Entirely AccurateAs noted, Ridley Scott took extra steps to try and ground The Martian in our reality, but there is an aspect of the film that space geeks will notice isn’t entirely accurate: the simulation of Mars’ gravity, which is actually only about 40 percent of Earth’s. In the movie, this isn’t really suggested in the way that Matt Damon moves around the surface of the Red Planet, and it’s basically because to actually portray that in a film is very difficult. As Matt Damon explained,
I think in a situation like that, you just have to suggest it. We’re not at a place where we can do 40% gravity. We can do weightless – we can get on wires, and we do all that for the space stuff – or you can do the Vomit Comet... But for doing 40% you can only suggest it.
Ridley Scott also chimed in with an explanation of his own, and said that when you factor in the weight of the surface suit that it should be just appear like normal movement. So if you feel the need to internally explain that issue away, that’s one as good as you’ll find.
Contrary To The Movie, It’s Actually Easy To Find Water On MarsIn order to try and survive as long as he can, Mark Watney obviously needs some key essentials on the surface of Mars, and one of those essentials is water (for drinking and growing food). In order to increase his supply, the astronaut/botanist goes through a good deal of work figuring out how to make H2O, and, fortunately, he’s ultimately successful. What’s funny about this situation, however, is that finding water on Mars is much easier than you’d think. Explained author Andy Weir,
I wrote The Martian, it was done, it was set, I couldn’t make any changes, around the time Curiosity landed… Curiosity, that little pain in the ass, goes down to Mars and samples the soil to find that for every cubic meter of Martian soil there is 35 liters of water around it. So all [Mark] really had to do was bring some dirt inside and heat it up.
In Ridley Scott’s film, Matt Damon’s Mark Watney still goes through the procedure of making water, but even knowing the reality of the situation it doesn’t really matter. A big part of the fun in the movie is the way that Watney is able to use his intelligence and MacGyver-esque tactics to keep himself alive for long stretches at a time.
There’s A Special Relationship Between Mark Watney And His GoProCinema has shown us time and time again that isolation can be a terribly destructive thing for a person, but Mark Watney in The Martian fortunately doesn’t experience too much of that – at least from the footage that was shown. Instead, the way that Watney is able to keep himself sane is basically by having a relationship with the cameras that are all over the Mars campsite. Discussing the hefty amount of narration Matt Damon does in the movie, Ridley Scott said,
The GoPro became his only companion. Whether he’s in the habitat or whether he’s the rover he’s always talking. He’s talking to it like it’s a buddy. I figured in that habitat there would be 50 GoPros wherever you go, and the GoPro, kind of logically, is the black box. If something went wrong, you’d want to know why and when and how it happened. So the GoPro became the companion.
Audiences probably shouldn’t expect the camera to become anything like Wilson from Castaway, but The Martian weirdly does benefit from having Mark Watney often speak directly to the audience – mostly because Matt Damon is a super charming guy and his attitude brings a lot of humor and levity to the material.
The Martian Is A Celebration Of The Mars GenerationAccording to Matt Damon, screenwriter Drew Goddard had one clear mission in writing the screenplay for The Martian: he wants the movie to inspire scientists. It makes sense, given that the film makes the study look fun, cool and spectacular. Interestingly, though, there is a certain perceived edge that the movie has, and that’s the audience to which it’s speaking – an audience that Dr. Jim Green, Planetary Science Division Director at NASA, describes as the Mars Generation:
Ridley and I were around when we landed on the moon. We were the Lunar Generation – that was pretty spectacular. But when we landed Curiosity on Mars, we had the world’s attention, and that’s the Mars Generation. That’s the inspiration that will propel our economy forward by bringing in the scientists and the engineers. And the movie and the book are great opportunities for us to celebrate that.
Given the lack of funding that NASA receives, and the incredible importance that space travel could have in our future, we can only hope that The Martian is successful. We’ll find out when the film arrives in theaters on October 2nd.