For astronaut Mark Watney, Matt Damon’s character in The Martian, there’s only one thing worse than being stranded on Mars: It’s being stranded on Mars with nothing but disco music.
In the Twentieth Century Fox film, which opens Friday (Oct. 2), Watney laments that the only music he can find in his fellow astronauts’ abandoned belongings are ‘70s classics, including Vickie Sue Robinson’s “Turn The Beat Around.” At one point in the film as the song plays, he even responds that he will not, in fact, turn the beat around.
“That song was pre-cleared as were four or five other tracks,” says the film’s editor, Academy Award winner Pietro Scalia. “In that scene, Matt knew he was going to do that and we just lined it up so it would sync up on the edit.”
The songs provide lighthearted moments in the Ridley Scott-directed film, including when Watney digs up a nuclear generator to provide heat as Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff” plays. “The music was always there for comic relief or for some sarcasm,” Scalia says. “The [songs] are played with irony and were perfectly chosen.”
The ‘70s music theme is taken directly from Andy Weir’s best-seller upon which the movie is based. Screenwriter Drew Goddard wrote song choices into the script and Scalia says the majority were kept, although a few were switched for other tunes and The Spinners’ “Rubberband Man” and Chic’s “Good Times” were ultimately replaced with score music from composer Harry Gregson-Williams or edited out.
“Sometimes it’s difficult and there are budget restraints to consider. This film came together fairly quickly and well. It was great to have such support from the studio,” Scalia says. “We thought something like [David Bowie’s] ‘Starman’ would be really expensive, but it wasn’t. There were never any issues with cost.”
All eight ‘70s songs, including Abba’s “Waterloo,” and Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” are on the movie’s soundtrack, which Columbia Records released via iTunes Oct. 2 and will put out on CD on Nov. 6.
Columbia Records soundtrack consultant Glen Brunman loved the music usage in the movie and took the idea of releasing the soundtrack back to the label. “You look for things where the music is really organic and important and nobody’s shoehorning it in,” he says. “What I saw with The Martian was every use of the music enhanced the movie. There was a reason for every song.”
Although Brunman says he wasn’t thinking of any other movies, he comments, “We should be so lucky,” when asked if the soundtrack could soar like last year’s ‘70s compilation for Guardians of the Galaxy, which is subtitled “Awesome Mix Vol. 1.” That title rose to No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in its second week, making it the only soundtrack composed of all previously released material to reach No. 1. The Guardians soundtrack has sold 1.4 million copies, according to Nielsen Music, including 5,000 copies on cassette.
A number of other soundtracks composed solely of previously released material have certainly done well, including the Forrest Gump soundtrack, which has sold 4.8 million copies but peaked at No. 2, or The Big Chill soundtrack which reached No. 17.
Though the songs had already been cleared for use in The Martian, they had to be cleared again for the soundtrack. Twentieth Century Fox handled the non-Sony masters, while Brunman cleared the Sony-owned tunes. Sony is Columbia’s parent company.
To round out the set, Gregson-Williams created a nearly five-minute composition, “The Martian Score Suite,” for the Columbia soundtrack. “We didn’t want to flesh out the rest of the record with stuff that wasn’t in the movie,” Brunman says. “We listened to the score and wanted to find a way to give folks a taste of that since it’s such an important element, so Harry took his themes and fashioned the piece.”
Gregson-Williams’ score will also be released on Nov. 6. Amazon will offer a deluxe version that combines both the soundtrack and the score. For the composer, working around the source cues was fun and challenging. “Scoring The Martian involved ducking and diving around some pretty neat classic disco songs that were woven in to the fabric of the film,” he says. “On occasion I had to [provide] a seamless way out of score and into [a] song. This [was] achieved by the score being in a relative key and/or tempo to the incoming song.”
Instead of competing with the disco songs, Gregson-Willams says his score complemented the tunes and served a separate purpose than comic relief: ”On the whole my score had a rather different emotional task than any of the individual pop songs, as it was more concerned with tracking the more wide ranging emotional journey of the central character and his peaks and troughs.”