Martian: Matt Damon Stars in Ridley Scott Survival Drama

Fox will realease The Martian in early October

During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew.  But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet.

With only meager supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive. Millions of miles away, NASA and a team of international scientists work tirelessly to bring “the Martian” home, while his crewmates concurrently plot a daring, if not impossible rescue mission. As these stories of incredible bravery unfold, the world comes together to root for Watney’s safe return.

Based on a best-selling novel, and helmed by master director Ridley Scott, The Martian features a star cast that includes Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, Donald Glover, Mackenzie Davis, and Chiwetel Ejiofor

We’ve all had the feeling of being alone in the world. Only Mark Watney knows the feeling of being alone on Mars.

Presumed killed by a devastating windstorm that forced an emergency evacuation, Watney awakens, injured, and to stay alive he must react immediately. If he can maintain his resolve to not become Mars’ first human casualty, help is only a few years and a few million miles away.

“This is the ultimate survival story,” says director Ridley Scott. “Mark Watney is placed under unimaginable duress and isolation, and the movie is about how he responds. Mark’s fate will be determined by whether he succumbs to panic and despair and accepts death as inevitable – or chooses to rely on his training, resourcefulness and sense of humor to stay calm and solve problems. “

Watney’s humor becomes a coping device, enabling him to stave off hopelessness and keep his mind from fixating on the dire circumstances.  His penchant to remain upbeat and optimistic is vital to the story, and one of the character traits that attracted Matt Damon to the role.

“I loved the humor, not only from Watney, but from other characters as well,” says Damon. “The comedic tone is never glib and it complements the intense drama of the situation, which is not often something associated with the sci-fi genre.”

Damon received the screenplay from producer Simon Kinberg, with whom he worked on Elysium. He sent it to Damon on a Friday and received an enthusiastic response by Sunday.

“Matt responded to the story in the same manner that the studio and I did,” recalls Kinberg. “He thought it was original, funny, exciting, and with a uniquely different take on a survival story. We couldn’t imagine anyone else as Mark Watney.”

The screenplay is based on an original novel by computer programmer-turned-writer Andy Weir. Aditya Sood was the first producer to read Weir’s eBook, prior to its 2014 hardcover publication by Random House, when it existed only online in series form and then as a eBook on Amazon.

Says Sood, “I thought it was one of the best sci-fi stories I’ve read. Everything that can go wrong for Watney does, and yet he keeps going. It has a very hopeful quality that makes it more than an exciting adventure movie.”

Kinberg was hooked after thirty pages, and Fox optioned the book on behalf of Kinberg’s Genre Films, which has a first-look deal at the studio.  The book was then sent to red-hot screenwriter Drew Goddard, with an eye toward having him write and direct. Kinberg says Goddard turned in an exceptional draft within several months, despite, the producer says, the challenges of adapting a book with rigorous scientific and mathematical problem solving, numerous characters and layered storylines.

Goddard says, “I couldn’t put Andy’s book down. I grew up around scientists in Los Alamos, New Mexico, and I had never seen anyone capture the delightful oddity that is the modern scientist until I read Andy’s work. My approach to the adaption was to protect the vibrant soul of the book at all costs. “

With Goddard’s script and Damon’s interest, the project went into fast-track development, coming to a pause when Goddard accepted a directing assignment. This left the director’s chair ready to be filled by, according to Kinberg, “not just a great director, but a master director.” Several A-list helmers familiar with the project were circling when the producers received some unexpected news: Ridley Scott was available.

“Ridley is my favorite film director, and perfect for this story, but he was busy developing another film,” Kinberg recalls. “When we learned it was delayed, we immediately got the script to him. “

Says Scott: “I was fascinated by the near impossibility of Watney’s task and the team effort required, not only from NASA, but also international partners. Geopolitical rivals must overcome their differences and work together for the common goal of saving an astronaut’s life, and the entire world becomes transfixed by the size and complexity of that challenge.”

Goddard himself was elated to see his script in Scott’s hands, commenting, “I can still remember where I was sitting when I first saw the character of Roy Batty [portrayed by Rutger Hauer] reflect on c-beams glittering off the Tannhauser Gate in Blade Runner.  (I was sitting third row back, left side of the White Roxy Theater.  I was seven years old.)  Everything I have ever written has been influenced by Ridley Scott; his films are embedded in my creative DNA. To have this opportunity to work with him has been a genuine dream come true.”

For novelist Andy Weir, the whirlwind progression from a serialized internet piece to a major film production was a dream hard to believe. So he didn’t.

“I live in Northern California, and had never met my agent in New York, nor the movie producer and the Fox executives in L.A. So when they told me Ridley Scott was going to direct it I became convinced it had all been an elaborate hoax.”

Weir had intended his novel, which he meticulously researched and loaded with science and math, to be a “technical book for technical people. I had no idea mainstream readers would be interested at all, let alone like it.”

He began by simply imagining a manned mission to Mars, and then became consumed by the endless possibility of failure scenarios.  “As a computer programmer for 25 years, I’ve learned the importance of a good backup,” he says.  Weir posted new chapters every six to eight weeks for a growing word-of-mouth audience, completing the story in three years, at which point he put the book up for sale – for 99 cents – on Amazon, and was contacted by an agent. This led to communication with Genre Films and the beginning of what Weir calls “every writer’s fantasy come true.”

Weir’s story is set in the near future, roughly 12-15 years ahead, and virtually every scientific aspect of the book is plausible and supported by current theory. With one exception: given Mars’ low atmospheric pressure (less than one percent of Earth’s), a windstorm of the severity depicted by Weir is unfeasible.

“I needed a way to force the astronauts off the planet, so I allowed myself some leeway,” Weir confides. “Plus, I thought the storm would be pretty cool.”

That storm, occurring on the 18th sol of a planned 31 sol mission, sends a piece of antenna through Watney’s suit, rendering him and his sensors inoperable.  (A sol is the duration of a solar day on Mars, roughly 24 hours and 40 minutes.).  From the moment of this freak accident, his ingenuity, resolve and courage will be tested to the upmost.

Says Damon: “Watney is a botanist and mechanical engineer, and is sent on the Mars mission to study and take samples of the soil, hopefully to learn more about its composition and the feasibility of growing crops. He has the knowledge and training to find ways to survive, but time is working against him. He believes it will likely be three to four years before the possibility of rescue. In man versus nature scenarios, the smart money is usually on nature.”

The most important battle Watney must fight is with his own will. Despair would be as detrimental as the hostile Martian environment. He keeps a video log of his activities, suspecting it may likely serve as his final testament, injecting it with scientific methodology and a fair dose of wit.

Andy Weir adds, “I based Mark on my own personality, though he’s smarter and braver than I am, and doesn’t have my flaws. I guess he’s what I wish I were like. He’s Matt Damon.”

Once of the most pleasant surprises Weir experienced while writing the story is the “how the minor characters grew in prominence throughout the story to become critical.”