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Sunday August 19th 2018

The Martian | 2015

The Martian filming location: Wadi Rum, Jordan
The Martian location: the surface of Mars: the cliffs of Wadi Rum, Jordan | Photograph: Wikimedia / Tango7174

Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is lost, presumed dead, on a mission to Mars but, against all the odds, turns out to have survived and provides NASA with all kinds of problems to get him back to earth.

A little tweaking of the colour convincingly turns Wadi Rum in Jordan, an area also known as the Valley of the Moon, into the arid red surface of the planet. The location was previously used in Red Planet (2000), The Last Days on Mars (2013) as well as Ridley Scott's Prometheus. It came down to earth for David Lean’s 1962 epic Lawrence Of Arabia.

NASA’s real Johnson Space Center, 2101 NASA Road, Houston, Texas, is glimpsed in establishing shots but the film was based at Korda Studios in the Hungarian village of Etyek, about 15 miles west of Budapest. As a result, the Balna Events Centre, Fővám tér 11-12, 1093 (known as the Budapest Whale) stands in for the space agency complex.

The Martian filming location: Balna Events Centre, Budapest, Hungary
The Martian location: the NASA complex: Balna Events Centre (The Whale), Budapest, Hungary | Photograph: Malcolm Davis

The Whale (formerly called CET) opened in November 2013 in a rapidly developing area close to the Great Market Hall, not far from the Danube Promenade, the city’s scenic riverside walkway.

Apart from being famously blue, the Danube was a vital transport route in the 19th century, with most of the wheat produced in Hungary being transported by ship. To serve the water traffic, four warehouses were built in the Pest side of the river in the 1870s.

By the beginning of the 21st century, these buildings were in bad shape so a project was launched to refurbish and use them but the centrepiece is brand new. If a huge glass Moby Dick surfaces in central Budapest, well, this is what it would look like.

I’m not entirely convinced that the real NASA offices are so open to public scrutiny but director Ridley Scott understands that The Whale is visually far more interesting.

The Martian filming location: Korda Studios, Etyek, Hungary
The Martian location: the entrance to NASA: Korda Studios, Etyek, Hungary | Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo / dpa picture alliance

The striking silver ‘Sixties space-age’ entrance to the NASA facility is actually the entrance to the Korda Studios itself. I’m sure it’s more impressive than the real thing.

Much more workmanlike and convincing is the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, 4800 Oak Grove Parkway in Pasadena, east of Los Angeles, which becomes the ‘Satellite Communications Center’.

The Martian filming location: Wadi Rumm, Jordan
The Martian location: the 'Chinese' space complex: Mupa Performing Arts Centre, Budapest, Hungary | Photograph: Wikimedia / hu:Szerkesztő:Takkk

In the spirit of scientific cooperation, the Chinese volunteer to help in the rescue mission. The ‘Chinese’ building is the Müpa Performing Arts Centre, Budapest, Komor Marcell u. 1, which stands alongside the National Theatre, near Rákóczi Bridge which is what you can see in the background.