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Set Visit: JoBlo Visits Ridley Scott's The Martian


I’d never been to Budapest. In fact, I knew very little about the capitol of Hungary. And when I learned that I would be spending the weekend in this historic city to visit the set of a major motion picture, my bags were already packed. This past December, while we were allowed to say we were heading out abroad, the details were to remain secret. This trip involved a very long plane ride into Frankfurt, Germany with a connecting flight to Budapest - one that I almost missed thanks to a delay from LAX. But believe me, once I arrived I was thrilled to be there.

With that long of a flight and the loss of a day, I was completely exhausted once I arrived in Budapest. However, I spent a little time walking the streets and enjoying the sights. It is an incredible place, one built on history and utterly impressive architecture. It was strange to think that I’d be heading into outer space the very next day - well not space really, but the sound stages over at Korda Studios. It was the very next morning when I was ready to make my way along with a group of other journalists to the set of Ridley Scott’s latest, THE MARTIAN.

Based on a novel by Andy Weir, THE MARTIAN tells the story of Astronaut Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon) who is separated from his crew during a massive storm on a manned mission to Mars. After the realization that he has been unintentionally abandoned by the others, Watney must find a way to contact Earth with very little hope. In addition, he must use his knowledge and skills to survive on meager supplies and what little has been left behind. Poor Matt seems to be constantly left on his own in outer space with this and INTERSTELLAR.

I’ve had the chance to visit a number of impressive sets, but there is something to be said about stepping into the world of Ridley Scott’s THE MARTIAN. When you walk on a sound stage, you can generally tell you are on just that, a soundstage, but this was something utterly spectacular. More on that later however. Once we arrived on set, we were gathered together in a large room where we’d be spending time speaking with some of the cast members including Jessica Chastain, Matt Damon, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan as well as a few others involved in this massive production. And that is just the manned crew to Mars. The film also stars Kristen Wiig, Sean Bean, Jeff Daniels and tons more. This is an amazing cast!

Before we began our series of interviews, we were given a tour of not only the sound stage itself, but a glimpse into the production including costumes, vehicles, and all sort of exciting stuff. But first, we were introduced to one of the film’s producers, Aditya Sood, who gave us a little insight on how the film was originally conceived.

This all came about when I first read Andy Weir’s The Martian. And at that time, it was still a self published book on Amazon. Random House hadn’t made the deal to acquire the book yet. It was one of the most incredible books I’d ever read. Just from the very first page, you could tell there was something really special about it. It’s really amazing how quickly it all came together. I read it probably in February of last year, and the very next day we got 20th Century Fox to option the book. The day after that I’d given it to this incredibly talented writer, Drew Goddard, who I had worked with about ten years before. Just a few days after that he signed on and here we are, about eighteen months later, here on the set of THE MARTIAN. It’s pretty incredible.

Having never read the book, it was fascinating to hear about the surprisingly quick transition from novel to screen. Especially a story that is singularly told from mostly one man’s perspective. Yet the question came up as to why we were all gathered together in Budapest. This was answered best by production designer Arthur Max, a regular collaborator with Sir Ridley.

In Europe generally, England is booked up, that’s why we are here - part of the reason we are here is because there is no stage space in England. Pinewood and Shepperton are completely filled with something called STAR WARS [Laughing]. And I think they just finished ALICE IN WONDERLAND… Again. And TARZAN… Again. And I’m not really up to speed but there are some movies just starting.

So the other reason we are here is because this stage is the biggest in the world and we felt that for the kinds of things you just saw, this kind of shooting, it is easier to control this on a stage, [rather] than a landscape. You can’t control the sun, or the wind, or the weather. Here we can control everything. And this stage is so big, it is about the same square area as the stage in Pinewood which you may remember was not big enough for us on PROMETHEUS, so we extended it. But this is about a third higher, five or six meters higher than Pinewood. That height offers the potential for a huge Martian CGI sky, and distant mountains and craters to be added later. And we watched our first footage last night and it looks intense on camera with wide angle lenses.

Arthur went on to give us a tour of the sound stage which included a series of storyboards. This included images post storm of our hero recovering. One sequence involved an airlock which will be damaged, the reason we were not told. We also saw some early concept designs of the Rover and the Rover 2 - some of the vehicles used in the film. Then there were drawings of something called the Martian habitat (or Hab), an environment that will be key to Watney’s survival. But you know what is far more impressive than storyboard? To see something real. And this included the impressive Rover…

We are very proud of our Rover, because it actually drives, thirty kilometers an hour on all terrain. And I think NASA should take a leaf out of our book and examine their own design for that. I’m not too impressed with theirs. We’ll see what happens with that one.

I’m sure this machine is going to be impressive on-screen, yet it was downright awesome to witness the Rover firsthand. We were able to look around at the details of the vehicle and the massive size of it, if only we could have driven it around a little… you know, take it for a spin.

Aside from the storyboards, the magnificent Rover, and even a potato farm which seemed to have more potatoes than you will ever need in your life - it’s also one of the most important means for survival with Watney - we had much more to see. We were also given a glimpse at the spacesuits created for the mission to Mars. When it came to the realization of the costumes, designer Janty Yates gave a little insight into how they came up with more comfortable living in space.

We were very fortunate to actually have direct access to NASA and the press department of NASA, and JPL as well. They bent over backwards to help us. And I finally got images out of them. The suit that they use now, for the prospect of Mars, is called the Z 1 and you can Google it. It is exactly like a “Buzz Lightyear” suit. Then I spoke to the Smithsonian and the curator there said that they were developing the Z 2. Oh bonus, nobody at NASA had told me that. It was probably top secret and you shouldn’t know [Laughing]. You can Google that as well and it is even more hideous, really uglier than anything you’ve ever seen. So Michael and two concept artists and myself were closeted in the dining room for about two weeks trying to come up with something. We didn’t want anything puffy. Even our EVA is going to be a slenderized version of normal EVA that you see anywhere. So we really did just base it on some images that Ridley had liked, and something that was as skintight as possible. Not skintight in any form of erotica, but he loves something that is practical as well as being functional.

All of this was exactly what you’d expect from an epic Ridley Scott space adventure. However, nothing prepared us for the set itself. When we arrived, it seemed we were very close the main event which left Watney stranded - the massive space storm. With several of the actors in their suits, they walked upon atop of the humungous stage as they were being pulled by wires to make their make believe situation a little more believable. The ground was covered in red sand and dust that seemed to be unavoidable to not make contact with. If you had walked blindfolded inside while they were filming you’d probably be terrified that somehow you ended up in another solar system. And this is without the aid of CG, this was practical and absolutely stunning. The habitat, the costumes, and the machinery all make this one of my most anticipated movies of the year.

Finally, and possibly more importantly, the question remains, will the cinematic take ably adapt the acclaimed material in a satisfying way? Producer Aditya Sood added even more hope to what looks to be an brilliant return to space for Sir Ridley Scott.

Look, there is always going to be differences, but the thing that Drew really responded to in the beginning was how well thought out Andy’s book was. One of the most important things to him, and us as well, is that the book really is a love letter to science. It’s a book that takes all these experiences incredibly seriously. Andy’s X-MEN superpower is that he is able to take fairly complicated scientific ideas and turn them into really great drama. And I think Drew’s X-MEN superpower is that he is able to take a book that on one hand it just an incredible idea for a movie, and it poses certain challenges like the time that Mark spends talking on his log. It doesn’t necessarily seem that cinematic but he was able to turn it into something that was really special. And he was able to retain the quality of Andy’s book.

If you haven’t seen the over three minute trailer of THE MARTIAN, you can do that below. And while I personally feel that the trailer reveals a ton about the plot, I have a feeling that we haven’t seen anything yet. After having the opportunity to step into this adventurous mission to Mars and live to tell about it, I can honestly say that the film’s October 2, 2015 release date can’t come quick enough.

CLICK HERE to read our on-set interviews with Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, and Sebastian Stan!

Source: JoBlo.com



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