Ridley Scott’s new film, “The Martian,” is not the 77-year-old director's first venture into space or the future. His films “Blade Runner” and “Alien” are classics of the sci-fi genre, but “The Martian” is a bit different.
Based on the book of the same name by first-time author Andy Weir, “The Martian” is a grounded look at how humans might tackle a mission to Mars — not in the distant future, but in the present.
Audiences are already lapping it up, bringing in a reported $55 million in its opening weekend, falling just short of the 2013 space movie hit, "Gravity," for highest-grossing October debut.
"The Martian" follows the story of astronaut Mark Watney — played by Matt Damon — who is thought to be dead and is left behind by his crew after a storm breaks out on the Red Planet. He miraculously survives the storm, but must figure out how to contact Earth and stretch his rations until a rescue mission can arrive, which won't be for many months.
The book and the film both portray the science behind space travel and life on Mars in painstaking detail. Both NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C. and the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena are prominently featured.
The location of that red planet was actually a desert in Southern Jordan near the town of Aqaba. (Other films, including "Lawrence of Arabia," have been shot there). Scott says he didn't need to do much digitally to transform the desert into Mars terrain:
The only thing that I had to adjust in the desert once I'd chosen the positions and the rocks and where I was going to shoot...was I removed all the skies. The skies on Mars are greenish copper. There's also not a lot of high wind on Mars, but there's this dust stratus. I thought dust in the air would be very interesting, so if you look at the sky there are little tornadoes.
The Frame’s host John Horn met up with director Ridley Scott to talk about the making of "The Martian."
Do you consider "The Martian" to be science fiction?
No, it's fact. People [ask] would I go to Mars? I said absolutely not. I felt like I just visited Mars. I put my head right into it. The great thing about storyboarding is I made the film on paper before the first day, so your head's right in it.
What was the physical challenge of creating Mars?
I knew where to go, because I'd been there twice before. I always thought that's a special place. So I ended up staying in Aqaba ... and drove 40 minutes every morning to this wonderful desert. The only thing that I had to adjust in the desert, once I'd chosen the positions and the rocks and where I was going to shoot — because it's quite a big area — was I removed all the skies. The skies on Mars are copper — greenish copper. There's not a lot of high wind on Mars, but there's this dust stratus. I thought dust in the air would be very interesting, so if you look at the sky there are little tornadoes. Those are common.
One of the scenes that I think is most striking in this film is a scene with very little dialogue and very few visual effects. It's a closeup of Matt Damon's face as Mark Watney — the character he's playing — is about to take a trip at the end of the film. Tell us about that scene, because it is a not big showy scene, and yet it is the heart of the movie.
I always try to help an actor as much as possible. I come from the school of "green screen is essential," but I try and put in a bit of set or as much set as possible. In fact, I've discovered sets are cheaper than green screen in some instances. [Damon is] sitting in a beautiful cone in a fantastic suit, but he's all on his own. So I asked, "Do you want to hear the other [actors]?" And he said yes. I'd already shot it, so I had it all mixed and I put all of the voices of the captain, Jessica Chastain, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, talking to each other, and he's being addressed by Chastain. It upset him...It really got to him and he apologized, which is really sweet. I said, "Are you kidding? That was it, dude!" I think it was perfect.
How do you measure the success of a film like this?
It's silly to say I don't care. I just care that I'm already into the next one ... I got totally destroyed on "Blade Runner." It really affected me, so after that moment I said I'm never going to read another review. So I don't — good, bad or indifferent. So I haven't seen one review. I don't read them, it's bad karma. Bad for you, bad for your soul, bad for your head. [I'm] just concentrating on what's next.
Do you hope a film like this can make the nation more excited about the process of space travel?
Of course. I was in Washington the night before last at National Geographic, where we shared the evening with NASA. There were lots of astronauts there and the whole senior staff of NASA were there. They both did very good presentations prior to the screening justifying why they do this and why it's important to do this. It's certainly a good story. If I had the spare cash I'd invest in it.