The first trailer for Ridley Scott’s The Martian landed today, giving a tantalizing first look at the film, which sees Matt Damon’s interstellar botanist stranded amongst the stars when his shipmates leave him for dead. To provide a little insight as to what's the finished film has in store, Scott himself talks us through some of the trailer’s key moments. If you haven’t read the book then some potential spoilers await.
Our first shot of the Martian landscape. In the film this is the Acidalia Planitia, a large plain located between the volcanic Tharsis province and the Arabia Terra. In reality, it’s in Jordan.
“That’s Wadi Rum. It’s got to be one of the wonders of the world, it’s fantastic. Lawrence Of Arabia was shot there. I actually used it shooting helicopter footage for the first Prometheus, then for the epic walkabouts in Exodus. But here we got on the ground and chose the rock where the actual habitat would be photographed.”
Watney alongside shipmates Beth Johanssen (Kate Mara), Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain), Rick Martinez (Michael Peña), Chris Beck (Sebastian Stan) and Alex Vogel (Aksel Hennie) just before the evacuation in which he’s struck…
...and knocked unconscious, missing his ticket home. “That’s at the very beginning. He’s caught in the storm on the way out. They’re aborting because the storm is something that they can’t really handle and they’re told to evacuate or they could get stranded. One of the communications towers snaps during the storm, which is about 280kph, and pierces him in his guts.”
Thought killed by the storm, Watney’s death is reported to the press in somber tones. You'd be forgiven for thinking it doesn't sound a million miles away from The Newsroom's Will McAvoy, that's because it's Jeff Daniels as NASA’s Teddy Sanders.
“I am absolutely a fan. He’s great. I had my eye on him as this guy, a tough guy who runs NASA. He’s, on the surface, fairly unforgiving. He’s tough, but you wouldn’t get a job like that unless you were."
Battered, bruised but very much alive, Watney lays out the grim reality of his situation in a video log. The habitat’s cameras are, for the sake of this particular castaway story, The Martian’s Wilson.
“The biggest challenge with the film was that, for Matt Damon, 99 per cent of the film is him talking to himself. I knew that we had to have a ‘person’ that Matt could address because otherwise it would all become voiceover. That person is a GoPro. In the habitat – or whatever machine he’s in – there are GoPros everywhere. They’re like a black box for NASA, 50 of these tiny cameras. They become a presence for him and give him someone to talk to. By using that we were also able to maintain the humour in the piece.”
“I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this.” Watney sums up his survival strategy in a prime example of the gallows humour that runs throughout the film.
“He turns his adversity into humour to keep himself sane and to keep himself from being afraid. People ask ‘Doesn’t a person get afraid in these circumstances?’ It’s a bit like saying big boys don’t cry – astronauts don’t cry. It’s like in The Right Stuff where Chuck Yeager has a broken arm but he doesn’t tell anyone because he knows they won’t let him fly. Astronauts are trained specifically not to show fear and the thing is not to show fear to yourself because if you do then it’s all over.”
Mission Control at NASA when they discover that Watney's still alive and "all hell breaks loose!"
“Matt's on screen at least 40 per cent of the time. The rest of it is the crew on board the Hermes where they discover that he is, in fact, alive. Then there’s NASA, then there’s JPL – the jet propulsion lab – in Pasadena, California. There’s a very good supporting cast in all those three places.”
The Hermes, ship for the Ares 3 mission, is a utilitarian beast designed with function rather than form in mind, and equipped with modules to carry everything a team would need to set up base camp on Mars.
“We looked at a lot of space stations to get the design as technically we’re not that far in the future. When you have a journey that long, your assets have got to be flown up there with you. Think about it - the first group of astronauts they’re going to fly in are going to be very unglamorous. They’re going to be electricians, plumbers, air conditioning technicians, because they’ve got to live. The first things you’ve got to get up there is your habitat, and you’ve got to get that working.”
"Do they go back for him or do they land on earth and nobody would think any the worse of them? The crew is told they have to land and saying ‘No, we’re going to go back’ is mutiny."
An explosion in the hab sends Watney flying across the room, indicating that his jury-rigged survival efforts don’t go entirely according to plan.
“Anything that you can imagine that’s going to go wrong will go wrong. One thing you can rely on is Murphy’s Law. Something will always break down so be ready for it.”
A close-up of the antenna that impales Watney during the evacuation as he pulls it out of his stomach.
“The blood congeals and saves his life as it keeps his space suit intact. That’s how he actually manages to stay alive and that’s what would actually happen: the blood would freeze initially and then congeal. In the day you can have 70 degrees on Mars but in the evening it drops like a stone to minus 90 or colder."
More than a year into his solo survival mission, a bearded and noticeably thinner Watney has managed to eke his 31 days of supplies out for 461 and counting.
“There’s a colossal loss of weight, because the food he’s lumbered with now is giving him a serious case of malnutrition. He’s literally starting to starve to death. How he stays alive is very amusing but I won't give that away. It’s all doable. I wouldn’t try it at home but if you’re on Mars then you have no bloody choice.”
The Martian is released on November 27.