Did You Notice This Deceptive Marketing For The Martian?

Blog, Film, News

Warning: This piece contains spoilers for both Ridley Scott’s new film, The Martian, and the Andy Weir novel it’s based on. 

Ridley Scott’s new film, The Martian – an adaptation of the incredible Andy Weir novel of the same name – just opened to a strong $100 million globally this weekend, and part of me wonders if a small part of that had to do with a bit of deceptive (albeit clever) marketing in the film’s trailers.

In the trailer, we see stranded astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) crying and looking at something out of the frame. The next second, we see a shot of a hand with a wedding ring on it touch a photo of a mother and child.

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Just as those shots appear, Watney is speaking, saying: “No matter what happens, tell the world, tell my family, that I’ll never stop fighting.” The word “family” hits just as the hand touches the photo.

How is this deceptive? Well, as book readers and those who’ve already seen the film know: Mark Watney doesn’t have a wife and child. He’s a single guy whose only request about family is that Commander Lewis tell his parents that he loves them.

The family in the photo actually belongs to Michael Peña’s character, fellow astronaut Rick Martinez. In fact, in the film, it’s not a photo at all, but a video call. So, not only did the editors of the trailer deceive audiences into thinking that that was Mark’s family, but they took a video feed and turned it into a freeze frame in order to convince us that Mark was looking at a photo, not a video transmission (which would be impossible in his current situation).

I’m not mad. In fact, I’m impressed, and believe that a slow clap is in order.

I do, however, find it fascinating that the marketing team felt it necessary to do this. Would general moviegoing audiences be less inclined to see a film about saving an astronaut if that guy had no wife or kids to speak of? Would moviegoers be okay with NASA spending countless dollars on saving one guy, if that guy had no more to live for than the basic fact that he’s a human being stranded on a desolate planet 140 million miles away?


The question of whether or not it’s right to save Mark never comes up in the film. NASA goes out of its way to do so, and even enlists the help of the Chinese space program (similarly, the Chinese don’t hesitate to offer help when the time comes). In Weir’s book, that question does come up a bit, but, as Weir writes, “every human being has a basic instinct to help each other out.” The final paragraphs of Weir’s book did make it into the trailers, but unfortunately wound up on the cutting room floor:

“The cost for my survival must have been hundreds of millions of dollars. All to save one dorky botanist. Why bother? Well, okay. I know the answer to that. Part of it might be what I represent: progress, science, and the interplanetary future we’ve dreamed of for centuries. But really, they did it because every human being has the basic instinct to help each other out. It might not seem that way sometimes, but it’s true.

If a hiker gets lost in the mountains, people will coordinate a search. If a train crashes, people will line up to give blood. If an earthquake levels a city, people all over the world will send emergency supplies. This is so fundamentally human that it’s found in every culture without exception. Yes, there are assholes who just don’t care, but they’re massively outnumbered by the people who do. And because of that, I had billions of people on my side. Pretty cool, eh?”

Yes Mark, that is pretty cool, and is part of why I love The Martian so much. It’s just a shame that the film’s marketing department thought that moviegoers would be some of the “assholes” who didn’t care about saving one dorky botanist.


4 thoughts on “Did You Notice This Deceptive Marketing For The Martian?

  1. In the movie, the NASA guys discuss about if it’s right or not go to Mars to save the dude. I didn’t read the book; maybe the point is hightlighted ther, but in the movie, they talk about it for a second. And your point about the marketing for this movie is interesting. I don’t blame them; they have to find a way to attract the moviegoers at any cost. It’s good for everybody, I guess; they keep making money, therefore, making movies. But, as you say, is interesting how the marketing people think about us; they think we need a push to think a little bit. Anyhow, is just about money and entertainment.

  2. Ok I finished reading this book 5 minutes ago and it’s so amazing that I just almost don’t have words. I want to go see the film in a day or so so I looked at the trailer and the first thing that popped out to me in the trailer was exactly this scene that you’re talking about and immediately I felt very bothered and thought should I even go to see it because part of the strength of the story to me personally with the fact that he is single. I thought it was so gutsy to have him be a single guy and for the world to care about him, for NASA to care about him, etc. In fact his character reminds me so much of my brother who is a lifelong bachelor and who is pretty much MacGyver about everything. The whole time I was reading it I had Matt Damon and my brother mixed together in my head 🙂 so I guess as soon as I saw the trailer I completely freaked out and googled whatever I googled which led me to your word press and I am so glad to know they didn’t change him into a “dad/husband.” But it’s pretty clear that those responsible for the trailer feel like that “lie” had to be told in order to get more people to the theater. I agree with what you wrote hundred percent. Thanks so much for writing it and noticing. At least now I don’t feel alone In my rage over what was a lot of excitement over the rest of the trailer.

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