Although the programme was designed for Radio 4 as part of their ‘Mars Week’ (3rd – 10th March), the Cells and Celluloid broadcast, which took place in front of an invited audience at the London Science Museum IMAX, still provided much food for thought and reflection on the prospects and possibilities that human science and space technology can yield, as we progress towards the practicalities that travel beyond our Moon to our nearest neighbour.
Hosted by Radio Film Show’s Francine Stock and Science Presenter Adam Rutherfood, the show also featured author Naomi Alderman, astro-biologist Dr. Louisa Preston and Double Negative Creative Director Paul Franklin, whose company was responsible for the CGI etc. on the The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception and Interstellar amongst others.
After a fun quiz between Rutherford and the audience, the discussions began. Dr. Preston regarded Mars as a suitable point of reference as it is nearby and also the fact that it could answer key questions about our own planet. In terms of the history of exploration, there has only been about 60-70 years and Mars has been, up to now, populated by robots (some not working!) like the Curiosity Rover. Alderman commented on the fact that Mars is visible in the sky and that it has a similar proximity from the sun to us.
Naturally, the subject transitioned into the whole concept of alien invasions onscreen and, of course, War of the Worlds was quickly brought into the conversation. Alderman made reference to a famous lyric from Jeff Wayne’s Eve of the War (‘A million to one they say’, which caused guffaws in the audience) and has been regarded as a reaction to the colonial mindset of the British Isles after over 400 years of invading other countries.
In terms of what the planet can offer the Earth, it was pointed out by Doctor Preston (in answer to a hypothetical question this writer asked about what we could discover if we did have the possibilities and technology in place, should we achieve a human landing on Mars) that we would respect the planet a lot more and treat it a bit more delicately compared to the environmental damage to our own.
Paul Franklin was then asked about the visual representation of space and planets in film and the one question he is asked by filmmakers is can they show something that has never been seen before. He said that with the advent of CGI, you can pretty much render anything realistic to the audience. For Interstellar for example, they used backgrounds from the glaciers of Iceland to create the backdrop for Matthew McConaughey and Matt Damon at one point.
Another new film, Life (due for release in March 2017) was a project that Adam Rutherford was a consultant on and he felt that this sort of project was an opportunity to play God and create something that doesn’t normally exist. Rutherford also stated that it has to be scientifically interesting in order to serve the story.
Overall, the dreams and imaginations of the participants began to differ somewhat, partly because the brutal reality of seeing human life on Mars has been understandably compromised by the issue that the CO2 atmosphere on Mars is more suitable for plants, rather than humans.
The romantic notion of seeing people like Matt Damon growing potatoes in the likes of The martian is clearly going to be the way forward, with a little help from visual effects experts like Paul Franklin and the creative imagination of established sci-fi authors like Alderman.