Mars Season: Cells & Celluloid on BBC Radio 4

Cells & Celluloid on BBC Radio 4’s Mars Season

The BBC Radio 4 Mars evening was prefaced by a retro pastiche animated short film, narrated by William Shatner, all about the Red Planet.


Mars! As narrated by Captain Kirk

BBC Radio 4 has kicked of its Mars Season with a host of funny, smart and exciting broadcasts, with this special mashup of the Film Program and Science something or other hosted in the Science Museum’s IMAX theatre. For those who weren’t lucky enough to be in the audience for the recording and missed the video you can catch up on the facts and figures of Mars below (don’t worry, I’ll wait)

Watched it? Good.

BBC Radio 4 plays host to a wide variety of programs all based on our fascination with Mars. The one I attended was Cells & Celluloid, with hosts Radio Film Show’s Francine Stock and Science Presenter Adam Rutherford. Their panel of guests for the night was made up of SciFi writer Naomi Alderman who recently published her book The Power, very smart person Dr Louisa Preston (UK Space Agency Aurora Research Fellow, an astrobiologist, planetary geologist and author), and visual effects supervisor Paul Franklin whose filmography includes three Batman films, Two Harry Potters, Inception and Interstellar.

The program starts off with a head scratching quiz that pits the audience against presenter GUY ONE (Adam) with questions that focus mainly on the film history of Mars than science based questions. The panel then goes straight into the deep end with questions like “Why is Mars important to us?” with fascinating answers from Dr Louisa (for the science-y and historical importance) followed up on the more social side from Paul and Naomi.

The program gives thought provoking insights into our relationship with Mars, for instance; Britain’s fascination with the planet came around the time where old Britannia was busy colonising any bit of the planet it could send a couple of men to. Reflective of this is how Martians came to be represented in all forms of media; they’re often brutal and have the objective of taking over Earth. Sound familiar? The Martians look at Earth and wanting to take it for themselves by any means was like holding a mirror up to what Britain had been doing to half the world.

To balance this introspective, interplanetary look at ourselves, the panel also talked about how Mars and Martian culture has often been portrayed as being a utopian society. The sentiment is less “They’re monsters (like us)” like the Martian invading forces, but more “Maybe someone out there is doing better than us (because we’ve mucked it all up)” Moving onto the celluloid of the cellular, two time Oscar winner Paul enlightens us on the subject of how the scientific and theoretic visions of Mars get translated onto screen, and what the issues faced by film and tv makers when trying to show a more factual version of the planet.

It’s really interesting to hear about the trails of (earth bound) location shooting and missing rea effects with computer generated ones. Paul goes on to discuss the different between making a realistic interpretation of Mars and the more fantastical, but totally inaccurate, kind.

The show is filled with interplanetary information and fascinating trivia; you’ll heard some history of practical effects for aliens (such as… well, Alien), why our fictional Martians look rather humanoid, what a being from another part of the universe could (scientifically speaking) look like and a discussion on how humanity really sees itself.

The panel broke twice for audience questions, but I 100% suggest you skip those parts. This has nothing to do with my having asked a really stupid question in the first one (I got carbon mixed up with silicon and made a fool of myself, thanks dyslexia!) and then referencing tumblr in the second Q&A, I swear!

The whole series of programmes from the Mars season look amazing and I think people should go and check them out!


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