The Martian is one of the most beloved works of literature of all time. The story revolves around an astronaut named Mark Watney who is stranded on Mars after being abandoned by the crew of his unmanned spacecraft. He has to make difficult choices to survive, relying on scavenged supplies and his wits alone to stay alive.
The book was first published in 2013 and was met with widespread critical and commercial acclaim. It was named the best science fiction novel of the year and also won the prestigious Carnegie Medal. Since then, the film rights have been acquired by Hollywood studios, and Ridley Scott is set to direct the adaptation for Warner Bros.
The Martian will follow in the tradition of Scott’s groundbreaking 1982 film, Blade Runner, which adapted Isaac Asimov’s The Martian Chronicles. In fact, the two share several key creators, including director of photography Roger Deakins and production designer Richard Hatch. Both books revolve around a dystopian future where humans have colonized other worlds, and Scott is bringing his flair for science fiction and incredible visuals to bear in crafting The Martian. We got the chance to speak with Ridley Scott about his enthusiasm for Mark Watney and how he plans to bring the book to life on the big screen.
The Inspiration Behind The Book
Scott has spoken about how his fascination with Mars began when he was a child. He read Robinson Crusoe on a Betamax by Victor Hugo, which was the first time he became aware of the red planet. His appreciation for Scott’s novel was further heightened when watching 2001: A Space Odyssey the same year. After that, he says he “fell in love with Mars” and wanted to know more about the planet and its atmosphere. He read everything he could about Mars, from classics like H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds and Richard Adams’ The Long Mars Summer to more contemporary takes on the subject, such as Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy and Brian Aldiss’s Flowers for Algernon.
What really struck Scott about all these stories was the fact that they were all set on Mars. For most of us, getting lost on an alien world would feel like the stuff of science fiction. But for Scott, it’s something that he’s keen to bring to life through his lens.
Why A Showdown On Mars?
With each new adaptation of The Martian, fans of the book are treated to a different take on the conflict. For the upcoming film, Scott is sticking as close as possible to the story told in the book and will not be introducing any new characters or elements. This time, Watney and his support team of scientists—including Michael Carter, played by actor Sean Chapman—will be battling a horde of violent robots known as the “Red Death” in a last stand on Mars.
So why go to war with robots in space? Scott believes that there is always room for new ideas and ways of looking at familiar stories, and he wants to give his fans a brand new perspective on the classic tale.
Bringing Scott’s Vision To Life
For those unfamiliar, Blade Runner was a landmark in cinematic storytelling thanks to its groundbreaking combination of computer-generated imagery and live action. The same can be said for The Martian. On the surface, it appears to be an artfully crafted combination of visual effects, practical props and set dressing. But there is a lot more going on beneath the surface.
For instance, the colors of the desert on Mars are muted and brown, which makes it appear a little more realistic. But Scott has gone the extra mile to ensure that the movie feels right at home on your TV screen. He’s brought the SONY A7 production value to life with his use of vivid, saturated colors and sharp contrast between light and dark. It’s the type of attention to detail that gives the movie an extra bit of pop.
A Beautiful Marriage Of Art And Science
Since its publication, The Martian has inspired numerous books and game titles based on the story. One of the more interesting spin-offs is The Martian: A Novel in Space, a graphic novel adaptation of the book that was released in 2015. Written by Tom Taylor, with art by Leonardo DiCaprio and Wilford Hamilton, it tells the story of Watney from a third-person limited perspective. It’s designed to look like an Apollo Command Module, with the illustrations complementing the pages of a novel perfectly.
While Taylor’s version of the story is serviceable, it’s clear that Scott is aiming for something more along the lines of an illustrated children’s book. This is evidenced by his choice of artist and, perhaps more important, the type of materials he’s chosen for the adaptation. While the movie will make use of digital effects and motion-capture performances to bring the characters to life, the bulk of its action will take place in scenes that were actually filmed on a set, on a soundstage.
The Scavengers And The Evolution Of The Robot
One of the biggest changes fans of The Martian will notice is the evolution of the robots. The novel treats its automatons with a surprising amount of respect, even going as far as to name one of them after its inventor, Kip Taylor. But these are no longer the hulking steel creatures one might be used to from science fiction. Instead, they’re slim, sophisticated machines that reflect Scott’s vision of what a robot from 2019 would look like.
Like in the film, the Red Death are a brutal offshoot of the same robot species. But Scott’s take on them is somewhat more insidious and terrifying. He’s gone so far as to describe them as “thinking, feeling creatures” that behave like “pack of ravenous wolves.” It’s clear that even at this early stage of development, the robots of 2019 will be something to behold.
All The Details Matter
As we mentioned above, The Martian was inspired by Scott’s childhood experience with science fiction and his lifelong interest in Mars. The novel is meticulously researched, particularly regarding the parts that take place on Earth. It details the various forms of life and survival strategies that humans have used on the planet, going as far to suggest alternatives to the methods of today. And, like all good sci-fi, it ponders the question: Could we actually live on Mars?
The reason why all these details matter is that, as with any good adaptation, The Martian will be a unique cinematic experience. This is thanks to the director’s detailed approach to world-building and the use of practical locations and props. While many film adaptations of famous works have been done before, none of them have had the level of detail and respect that Scott is bringing to bear in his adaptation of The Martian.
Watch The Trailer
If you’re curious as to what all the buzz is about, here’s a trailer for you to check out. It does a fantastic job of highlighting the key visual elements of the movie, particularly the artistry of cinematographer Roger Deakins. So while this is not the definitive trailer, it will give you a good impression of what it’s like to be in the presence of a master craftsman.
More than anything else, The Martian is the story of an artist’s vision. Scott has painstakingly put together a faithful adaptation of the book, paying meticulous attention to every detail, from the costumes to the sets, the characters’ facial expressions and the way the story is told. It’s a beautiful marriage of art and science, and we can’t help but be drawn to it more than ever before.