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.
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.