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Director Ridley Scott says his new film, The Martian, is much more realistic than his other, classic space dramas.
“The fantasy of space,” he said, “which is now also a reality, is a marvellous platform and a form of theatre. Honestly, almost anything goes. But, if anything goes whether you do a play, a book or a film, you’ve got to actually make your own rule book and stick within the confines of the rules you make. So, if I’m doing space fantasy like Alien or Prometheus, I’ve got to draw up the sidelines of the rule book and stick within them. It’s still a fantasy because it’s never going to happen. (The Martian) is a lot easier because, actually, you can lean very heavily on the science in the book. This was a much more realistic movie.”
That realism stems from source novel by Andy Weir, a self-professed science geek who worked to ensure that the story of Mark Watney, an astronaut who survives after being left for dead on Mars, felt genuine.
“The basic structure of the Mars program in the book is very similar to a plan called Mars Direct, though I made changes here and there,” he said, in a Q&A on the Penguin Random House website. “It’s the most likely way that we will have our first Mars mission in real life. All the facts about Mars are accurate, as well as the physics of space travel the story presents. I even calculated the various orbital paths involved in the story, which required me to write my own software to track constant-thrust trajectories.”
As research the actors met with representatives from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the European Space Agency.
“I got to go to the JPL in Pasadena and meet with all the robotics guys and see the Curiosity Rover and do virtual reality to be on Mars and see what that would be like,” said Jessica Chastain, who plays the commander of the Mars mission. “Then I went to Houston and met with Tracy Caldwell Dyson, who’s an astronaut and talked to her.”
The cast says filming the zero gravity and space walk scenes involved careful planning and wirework to make them look authentic. “It’s choreographed to within an inch of its life and we’re just along for the ride,” said Chastain. “It feels very much like a dance and there is choreography to it,” adds Kate Mara, “but, once you do it, you really do feel like a little kid.”
The former House of Cards star says Scott was enthusiastic about shooting those scenes. “Maybe he was just faking it really well (but he) seemed just as excited as we did when were doing the scenes floating through the air.”
Matt Damon, who demonstrated another technique to achieve the look of weightlessness on screen at The Martian TIFF press conference — standing on one leg while slowly waving his hands through the air — said that,“one of the things that is fun about making movies and (also) totally, totally ridiculous is that we are grownups doing this.”