The space exploration featured in films like Gravity and Interstellar isn’t entirely accurate or scientific, but they are films that at least attempt to frame their stories within our understanding of how humans can actually live or travel in space.
The Martian takes that idea one step further, telling the story of stranded astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) trying to survive on Mars until his crew can return for him. And while the story is obviously fiction (based on the novel of the same name by Andy Weir), The Martian is inspired by the technology used today that allows humans to live in space. As Damon proclaims in the trailer, they’ve “science[d] the s–t out of this!”
Adding to The Martian‘s sense of realism is director Ridley Scott’s preference for shooting on desert locations or in hangars full of blowing red sand to replicate the Martian landscape, instead of relying on green screen and CGI.
While he was filming in just such a hangar, Yahoo spoke with Damon about how The Martian combines the thrill of a space adventure with the perils of a film about a stranded survivor:
“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.”
Yahoo also spoke with Jessica Chastain (she plays Watney’s commander, Melissa Lewis), who explained just how much of the film rests solely on Damon, whose character in the book is totally alone for much of the story:
“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.”
The Martian obviously isn’t the first movie to focus on one character adrift in space. Duncan Jones’ Moon starring Sam Rockwell as an isolated astronaut stationed on the Moon, comes to mind. But The Martian does add in that survival factor since, unlike a space station, the surface of Mars is not all hospitable to human life.
The Martian also stars Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie and Michael Peña as the rest of Watney’s crewmates. Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, Donald Glover, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Sean Bean round out the remainder of the cast back on Earth. The film release in theaters on November 25, 2015.