Matt Damon’s ‘The Martian’ Could Have Been a Massive Flop if Ridley Scott Didn’t Find a Way to Fix the Film’s Biggest Problem

The Martian director Ridley Scott found a creative way to handle the film's tricky tone.

Ridley Scott, Matt Damon
Credits: Wikimedia Commons / Magnus Manske

SUMMARY

  • Matt Damon played the lead in Ridley Scott's sci-fi drama The Martian.
  • The film had the dire circumstance of a botanist stranded on Mars and fighting for his survival, while also injecting humor about his condition.
  • Scott used the power of creative cinematography and visual imagery to retain the feeling of dread and tension in the film.
Show More
Featured Video

Matt Damon has been in some amazing films and has worked with some of the greatest directors working today. The actor has had the great opportunity to star in films directed by Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Christopher Nolan, Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood, and Ridley Scott. Not many actors have had the privilege to work with those legends of cinema.

Advertisement
Matt Damon as Mark Watney in Ridley Scott's The Martian | 20th Century Fox
Matt Damon as Mark Watney in Ridley Scott’s The Martian | 20th Century Fox

Damon first worked with Scott on the sci-fi drama The Martian in 2015 and the historical epic The Last Duel in 2021. The former saw him play a botanist who fights for survival on Mars. Despite the dreary and dire circumstances, the film manages to infuse humor about the character’s circumstances. Scott had the perfect way to balance the comedy along with the tension of survival.

Ridley Scott Made Sure The Martian Retained Its Frightful Circumstances Along With Its Humor

Ridley Scott ,asterflly balanced the dread of alienation with loght moments in The Martian | 20th Century Fox
Ridley Scott masterfully balances the dread of alienation with light moments in The Martian | 20th Century Fox

Matt Damon starred as Dr. Mark Watney in Ridley Scott‘s The Martian. The character is left stranded on Mars after his team accidentally leaves him after a dust storm threatens to destroy their MAV. The character is forced to use his skills s a botanist and a mechanical engineer to survive and grow food on the planet’s soil.

Advertisement

Audiences are made aware of the dire circumstances that Watney is in and he is put through the wringer with many failed experiments and actions that almost get him killed. Amidst the tension and hopelessness of the situation, Watney manages to record his activities on the planet, leading to some funny and light moments throughout the film.

Finding the right balance between suspense and humor was one of the concerns Damon had while going into the film. In an interview with Smithsonian Magazine, the actor enquired Scott about how he was going to achieve the realistic distress Watney was in while also including humor.

Matt Damon lost a significant amount of weight for The Martian | 20th Century Fox
Matt Damon lost a significant amount of weight for The Martian | 20th Century Fox

The director had a simple answer, which was to capture him in long and wide shots. That way, audiences will be aware of his ‘smallness’ while surrounded by the vastness of the planet. That way, the sense of dread and hopelessness will naturally start to creep in. Damon said,

Advertisement

I asked Ridley Scott, ‘How do we infuse it with some sense of dread and terror and have the stakes as high as they can be, which you really need for the movie to work, and to create a realistic look at the situation the guy is in … while retaining the humor and the fun?’

We ended up shooting in the desert, in Wadi Rum, Jordan. And Ridley said, ‘Look, it could be just as simple as looking at your small figure on this vast expanse of desert. Or you in the rover puttering along, this tiny vehicle on this giant, inhospitable planet.’ Shots like that serve as a reminder of the fix this guy is in, and ramp up that sense of dread.

As one sees in the film, the character tries his best to handle the dire situation lightly and humorously. However, Scott often captures Watney being a very tiny piece on a big and vast planet, reminding audiences that he is constantly in danger of dying. Scott’s directorial skills and his eye for detail made all the difference in balancing the contrasting tones in the film.

Matt Damon Did Not Need To Learn About All the Science Jargon in The Martian

Matt Damon had a lot of science-related monologues in The Martian | 20th Century Fox
Matt Damon had a lot of science-related monologues in The Martian | 20th Century Fox

Matt Damon‘s character in The Martian is a botanist and is seen recording and speaking on his process of growing potatoes on Mars’ soil. He speaks a lot of scientific jargon and names that helped in his efforts to survive on the planet. When asked by Collider whether he did any research about the terms he spoke, the actor stated that it was not required at all.

Damon claimed that he knew the basic and general terms about the whole thing and a deep dive into the science of it all was not necessary. As an actor, he believes that his performance should be able to sell the audience and let them believe that his character knows what he is saying and doing. The actor said,

Advertisement

Not at all. You can if you want to, but it’s acting. If it’s done right, the audience should believe it. I think it’s always good when an actor knows what they’re saying. You can see when you watch an actor who’s talking and he literally doesn’t have any idea what they’re talking about, that comes across. But if you know in general terms what it is and what the obstacles are, then you don’t have to know.

Mark Watney grows potatoes in his Hab in The Martian | 20th Century Fox
Mark Watney grows potatoes in his Hab in The Martian | 20th Century Fox

In addition to Damon, the Ridley Scott-directed film also starred Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, Mackenzie Davis, Donald Glover, and Benedict Wong. The film was a huge hit grossing $630 million against a $108 million budget (via Box Office Mojo).

Fans can watch/rent The Martian on Apple TV+. 

Avatar

Written by Rahul Thokchom

Articles Published: 1137

Rahul Thokchom is a senior content writer at Fandomwire who is passionate about covering the world of pop culture and entertainment. He has a Masters Degree in English that contributes to the richness and creativity in his works.