Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Martian Chronicle Ridley Scott: Space Cowboy

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Martian Chronicle Ridley Scott: Space Cowboy

Article excerpt

TORONTO - Ridley Scott dreamed of being a cowboy as a child, but he grew up to be a sci-fi master, a filmmaker in the class of legends such as John Ford, Howard Hawks and Billy Wilder (says actor Jeff Daniels) and a potato farmer.

"We grew potatoes in the neighboring soundstage because those are obviously real potatoes in the movie at various stages of growth. We actually had a little potato farm," Matt Damon said of "The Martian," which had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September and opens in theaters today.

The interplanetary epic, directed by Mr. Scott and starring Mr. Damon as an astronaut presumed dead and stranded on Mars and Mr. Daniels as the director of NASA, is infused with humor thanks to the Andy Weir source novel and Drew Goddard screenplay.

"All that humor really was in the book. Drew mined the book for all the great lines, as many as we could get into the movie," Mr. Damon said. "When you get a really great script, you don't want to bronze the gold medal. The key is just knowing when you need to work it a little bit and when to shut up and say the lines."

Mr. Scott, a triple Oscar nominee for directing "Thelma & Louise," "Gladiator" and "Black Hawk Down" and celebrated for "Blade Runner" and "Alien," has gone to space before.

"The fantasy of space, which is also now a reality, is a marvelous platform and a form of theater, if you like, where honestly almost anything goes," the filmmaker, 77, told a festival press conference. "But when you do anything goes - whether you do a play or a book or a film - you've got to actually make your own rule book and stick within the confines of the rules that you make."

That was the case with "Alien" or "Prometheus," but "The Martian" was different. "This is a lot easier, you can lean very heavily on the science in the book, the way the characters are, the way the NASA people are, the [Jet Propulsion Laboratory] people are. This was a much more realistic movie."

It was, however, the stuff of dreams for Mr. Weir, a first-time novelist whose book initially existed only online in series form and then as an eBook on Amazon and eventually a hardcover publication from Random House.

When Mr. Weir saw a cut of the movie a few weeks before its premiere, he not surprisingly loved it. "For the first five minutes of the movie, I was choked up, just trying not to cry just because this is the sort of thing you fantasize about as a writer," but think will never happen. He compared it to being a boy in Little League and daydreaming about being in the World Series in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Film and TV screenwriter Goddard called Mr. Scott his favorite filmmaker of all time. "My dad took me to 'Blade Runner' at 7, which is a terrible decision for a parent, watching Harrison Ford shoot naked women in the back. …

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