I was expecting The Martian to be a visual treat, but what I hadn’t anticipated was the technique that Ridley Scott used on almost all of the scenes on exterior Martian landscapes. On almost every such scene,– particularly any of the many scenes where Matt Damon is traveling on the surface — the camera flies above the surface on long aerial tracking shots that, if you just use your imagination the tiniest little bit, are giddily like flying over the dead sea bottoms of the dying planet.
The picture at the top of the article is one that gave this feeling. Here is another — the camera rises up and travels across the surface.
Overall … the presentation of Mars in the movie is poetry. Is it scientifically exactly accurate in terms of the topography, the color, the look of the sky and the quality of the sun? I’m absolutely sure that it’s possible to quibble that some aspects are enhanced for artistic effect. On the other hand I haven’t heard any screams of outrage from the science fact-checkers when it comes to the topogrpaphy. The FX company who did it is Framestore, and the story of how they did it is here. Framestore is the award-winning London based FX house who did Gravity. On The Martian they were responsible for 338 shots. The visuals were done “with significant input from NASA on genuine contemporary technologies,”
But that is not my point. My point is that at all times in the movie, having journeyed to Barsoom for many decades in my mind — this time I felt like I was seeing what I would see, as I had seen in in my mind all these years — hurtling across the ochre of the dead sea bottoms of the dying planet…..
The Burroughs One Man Flier Experience
For me, my best remembered ‘one-man-flier’ passage from the Barsoom novels comes from the beginning of Llana of Gathol — which happened to be the first Barsoom novel I read, and I still remember the magic of reading this passage for the first. It created an instant yearning to be there and do that — a yearning that is still with me.
When I feel that strange urge for solitude coming over me, it is my usual custom to take a one man flier and range the dead sea bottoms and the other uninhabited wildernesses of this dying planet; for there indeed is solitude. There are vast areas on Mars where no human foot has ever trod, and other vast areas that for thousands of years have known only the giant green men, the wandering nomads of the ocher deserts.
Sometimes I am away for weeks on these glorious adventures in solitude. Because of them, I probably know more of the geography and topography of Mars than any other living man; for they and my other adventurous excursions upon the planet have carried me from the Lost Sea of Korus, in the Valley Dor at the frozen South to Okar, land of the black bearded yellow men of the frozen North, and from Kaol to Bantoom; and yet there are many parts of Barsoom that I have not visited, which will not seem so strange when there is taken into consideration the fact that although the area of Mars is like more than one fourth that of Earth its land area is almost eight million square miles greater. That is because Barsoom has no large bodies of surface water, its largest known ocean being entirely subterranean. Also, I think you will admit, fifty-six million square miles is a lot of territory to know thoroughly.
Upon the occasion of which I am about to tell you I flew northwest from Helium, which lies 30 degrees south of the equator which I crossed about sixteen hundred miles east of Exum, the Barsoomian Greenwich. North and west of me lay a vast, almost unexplored region; and there I thought to find the absolute solitude for which I craved.
I had set my directional compass upon Horz, the long deserted city of ancient Barsoomian culture, and loafed along at seventy-five miles an hour at an altitude of five hundred to a thousand feet. I had seen some green men northeast of Torquas and had been forced up to escape their fire, which I did not return as I was not seeking adventure; and I had crossed two thin ribbons of red Martian farm land bordering canals that bring the precious waters from the annually melting ice caps at the poles. Beyond these I saw no signs of human life in all the five thousand miles that lie between Lesser Helium and Horz.
It is always a little saddening to me to look down thus upon a dying world, to scan the endless miles of ocher, mosslike vegetation which carpets the vast areas where once rolled the mighty oceans of a young and virile Mars, to ponder that just beneath me once ranged the proud navies and the merchant ships of a dozen rich and powerful nations where today the fierce banth roams a solitude whose silence is unbroken except for the roars of the killer and the screams of the dying.
At night I slept, secure in the knowledge that my directional compass would hold a true course for Horz and always at the altitude for which I had set it–a thousand feet, not above sea level but above the terrain over which the ship was passing. These amazing little instruments may be set for any point upon Barsoom and at any altitude. If one is set for a thousand feet, as mine was upon this occasion, it will not permit the ship to come closer than a thousand feet to any object, thus eliminating even the danger of collision; and when the ship reaches its objective the compass will stop it a thousand feet above. The pilot whose ship is equipped with one of these directional compasses does not even have to remain awake; thus I could travel day and night without danger.
It was about noon of the third day that I sighted the towers of ancient Horz.