When Ridley Scott Painted The Planet Red

Amelia Rowland

 

After recently watching Cafe Society by Woody Allen, my eyeballs were left overwhelmed by the serenade of glossy, drenched colour. Some scenes of the film were entirely dedicated to the colour orange, with actors all swathed in tangerine and gold clothing, the backdrop a sun-drenched Los Angeles 1930’s villa (also orange) - the effect leaving me with a tan and a desire for a giant bottle of Fanta. 
Once you start considering the colour pallette of a film it’s quite easy to start spiralling into a vortex of hefty film concepts - especially considerations of colour theory and psychology. There are plenty of contemporary films that deliberately focus their colour palettes, one being the beautiful Dear Frankie (2004) directed by Shona Auerbach. Inspired by the Scottish collectives The Glasgow Boys and Glasgow Girls, Auerbach reduced the visual scenery down to various shades of muted greens, browns and yellows with occasional rich pops of brighter reds and blues. For a more creative analysis of colour production in cinema try this Movies in Colour Tumblr (their innovative approach involves reducing films down to a Pantone-like reference - so sleek).

After recovering from my Cafe Society colour coma I started watching The Martian (2015) directed by Ridley Scott. 

Suddenly, everything turned red.

In this film Ridley Scott has created a scarily realistic portrayal of the planet of Mars, from the colour palette down to the technologies needed to explore and survive. As the main character, astronaut Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon) begins to create a sustainable existence for himself on Mars, he develops a system of producing water and plants (and a tonne of potatoes for sustenance). As NASA notes, these methods of generating essentials (to keep humans alive, simply) would all need to be considered before preparing for habitation of Mars - but don’t worry, they’re already on the case!
Could this be a prophetic science fiction?

This series of photographs produced by NASA shows a variety of soil samples being taken from Mars. These investigations occurred in the landing regions of several Rover missions, from the Gusev Crater to the Curiosity's Gale Crater. NASA noted that similar samples of soil were taken from all sites.  Attribution: By NASA/JPL-Caltech [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 

This series of photographs produced by NASA shows a variety of soil samples being taken from Mars. These investigations occurred in the landing regions of several Rover missions, from the Gusev Crater to the Curiosity's Gale Crater. NASA noted that similar samples of soil were taken from all sites. 
Attribution: By NASA/JPL-Caltech [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 

Not having read the book of the same name by Andy Weir, I can’t testify to the lengths of description that he uses to create this vision of Mars. I can only assume the dedication towards producing this setting is similar in both - less imagination and fantasy, and more rooted in the realm of scientific discoveries and NASA. 

What we know about Mars has skyrocketed within the last 50 years. NASA has worked tirelessly to gain as much information about this planet as possible, from photographs in fly-bys to orbits and landing efforts (find out more about their Mars missions here). We commonly throw around the phrase ‘the red planet’ when describing Mars. However, as I watched The Martian I began to question why the planet had red, barren earth. Interestingly, the red soil on Mars comes from its high iron content, and often the winds and storms on this planet can create red dust storms. The more scientific explanation for Mars’ mineral breakdown and also how it could effect the search for later human habitation is given by our trusty friends at NASA (we apologise if this sounds like we are endorsed by them - which we in no way are!)

Ridley Scott imposed footage and content from filming in Wadi Rum, also called The Valley of the Moon, in Jordan. This inhabitable location, full of cliff faces, sandy desert areas and large orange-tinged red boulders and crevices has been the substitute for Mars for a variety of other films including Red Planet (2000) and The Last Days on Mars (2013). Ridley Scott had previously also used this southern area of Jordan to film his critically divisive film Prometheus in 2011. The region also has important cultural significance (beyond its use in film and literature including TE Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom). It was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Protected Site for the thousands of rock carvings and inscriptions from pre-historic eras found around the area.

Photograph of Wadi Rum. Attribution: By Jean Housen (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photograph of Wadi Rum. Attribution: By Jean Housen (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The colour red has traditionally been viewed as symbolising some of the strongest emotional responses - from passion, to love and hatred. The colour red has also been used by humans in art, body painting and cosmetics, and for dyeing fabric since pre-historic times. Many of these first 'samples' of the colour red were made from the natural minerals in the earth, including red ochre, henna and lead oxide (and red lead). Over 40,000 years ago Stone Age people were producing samples of the colour red from the dyed clay found in the ground. Perhaps our obsession with the colour red isn't such a new concept after all; and our desire to uncover the mysteries of Mars is a little more complicated than we expected. 

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