Lucas Bale

Award-Winning Speculative Fiction Author

Collected Artwork, Video and Images from Ridley Scott's The Martian

It's a poorly kept secret that I loved Andy Weir's breakout novel, The Martian. If you haven't yet read it, you really should. I suspect you'll love it as much as I did. I'm thrilled by the upcoming film, directed by one of my favourite directors, Ridley Scott. Initially, I was uncertain of Matt Damon cast in the role of Mark Watney, but two trailers I've now seen dispel those doubts utterly. I have no doubt it will be one of the blockbuster events of the year when it is released. Haven't seen the trailer yet? Here it is.

The hype is growing, the media circus gathering pace. So I thought I'd share some of my favourite  artwork and on-set images.

The reality of the task facing Weir was stark. He had to have Watney right there, but also the desperate efforts to save him going on in parallel. He solved the problem of creating his narrative voice through a device which is not particularly inspired – a ship’s log – but is nevertheless clever for two reasons. Firstly, it allows Weir a simple narrative voice, that of his protagonist, and the ability to see into his mind clearly. We identify with him completely and quickly. We are with him. We want him to survive. We are him. Secondly, we don’t know, from the outset, if he survives. The log is a permanent record and remains whether he survives or not. So, uninspired? Or simply taking advantage of the most effective way to tell his story? Does it matter – Weir uses a device which works.

And he uses it to great effect.

Initially, the POV shift to third person NASA took the story in a direction I was unhappy about – the strength of this book was Watley's narration and our insight into his character through his thought processes. His humour came through, his unwillingness to give in. Segueing to the third person from the first person is a technique I find contrived and disconcerting – if I am viewing events through the eyes of a (first person) non-omniscient narrator, to then see them through the eyes of an omniscient narrator in the third person simply does not work. Additionally, I was not convinced the story needed it, but the reality is it does build tension and it gives us a much-needed break from the sometimes too technical "this-is-what-I-did-next" Watney (nice as he is). So, I am willing to forgive the first-person/third-person contrivance because it drives the story nicely and I genuinely don't think Weir could have achieved what he did achieve – narrative flow and strong tension – any other way in the context of the story he was telling and the way he was telling it.

That’s the big challenge. It has all the bells and whistles of NASA and the b-side of the story, the rest of the world trying to get this guy back. But the other half of the movie is me and Ridley on Mars, so that part’s different. You start there, there’s that mystery – what happened, how did he get left there? The mission part is the b-side, trying to figure out how to get back. So, structurally it’s different to anyone that’s ever been done.
— Matt Damon on portraying Watney's struggle to survive

One of the things I love about the build-up to the film is the docu-style trailers – taking the gritty, utterly realistic feel the book had and translating it to the film's underlying themes and milieu. Almost making the film feel, as the book did, like non-fiction.

The technical aspects of the story are integral to suspension of disbelief. Watney (and so Weir) has to explain it to us because this is a story about fumbling for the final threads on frayed fabric, and somehow painstakingly sewing them into an escape plan. Every single thing Watney does needs scientific explanation otherwise the drama of his escape evaporates. Yet Weir manages to convey this in Watney's engaging, conversational tone so we don't despair at the detail. We love it. The quote I began this review with is the most telling example of the entire book: "Yes, of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum. Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshiped." So simple, so obvious, so much said in the sort of tone which implies 'What, you didn't know that?'

The book is great, it created an amazing character who’s such a problem solver. He has such a great sense of humour that you root for him. It has a similar character to other films we’ve loved, like Sandra Bullock in Gravity, like Tom Hanks in Castaway. It’s a character that’s lost at sea somewhere and is trying to find their way back home. I think we can all imagine being lost somewhere and trying to get back, we can all relate to that.
— Jessica Chastain

Chastain is right. Characterisation of Watney in the book is excellent – we believe him from the very first words. "I'm pretty much fucked. That's my considered opinion." In those eight words, we are told everything we need to know about Watney's personality. The subtle dig within the words "considered opinion" suggested his expertise and what he now thinks of it. We immediately know he's in trouble. We are compelled to read on, we simply cannot but read on. "I don't even know who'll read this. I guess someone will find it eventually. Maybe a hundred years from now." First person convention blown – we don't know if he's getting out of this. We see this log, and his scattered, dried bones beside them, being handled by astronauts years, even decades from now. All bets are off. This is serious. This is Into the Wild.

I think it will be great.


All words copyright Lucas Bale, 2015