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Media studies – Life on Mars

Categories: Life On MarsMarsMedia

How does life on mars (2006) use visual codes, technical, audio and narrative codes to create a sense of excitement and encourage the audience to watch.

In this first episode of Life on Mars there are many different codes and conventions used to make this series instantly appealing to the audience. The episode is excellently paced and smartly directed, getting us into 1973 within 10 minutes and introducing new characters effortlessly.

Sequence 1 of life on mars gets the audience instantly familiar with the genre, the episode begins with a police car chasing down a suspect which quickly shows us this is a hybrid police crime drama.

The diegetic sounds of police sirens and dogs along with the non diegetic music, a heartbeat which is corresponding with Sam the detective in the police car creating suspense as we get a feel for how Sam is feeling as the heartbeat signifies his nerves also introducing the audience to protagonist Sam Tyler, these audio codes add up to create an exciting police chase which again expresses the genre of ‘Life on Mars’.

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Once out of the car Sam is forced to chase his primary suspect down an ally way in a council estate in the city giving the audience a feel for the setting. The music isn’t as dramatic while the chase is happening but speeds up during more dramatic parts of the chase which creates suspense. Cinema-verte is used when filming the chase which makes the audience feel almost part of the chase, this entertaining filming technique and creative use of music makes Life on Mars exciting to the audience creating enigma and encouraging them to watch on.

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This chase takes us up to Colin Raimes arrest bringing us to sequence 2.

In sequence 2 Sam’s colleague and girlfriend, Maya, are interviewing suspect Colin Raimes. Sam and Maya facing Colin and his lawyers, which creates tension between these two sets of people. During the interview there is a close up of Colin Raimes which engages the audience creating tension and increasing the viewers curiosity as to what this suspect has done and makes them wonder has he done it or not?

The diegetic recording sound in the background shows the viewers the interview is being recorded and shows the viewers the seriousness of the situation, the room is dark with little light which creates a professional mood, the dark setting is a technique used to scare the suspect in to talking, perfect for the situation. The narrative codes in this sequence reveal allot about Colin Raimes as he gets upset by the images he is being shown, we learn Colin sees a psychiatrist and his lawyers talk about how kids would throw fireworks at him on his estate. This is evidence to show that Colin is vulnerable and is possibly mad, the audience may take pity on him or take a different view on the suspect, this makes the viewers curious and increases their want to watch on.

After the interview in sequence 3, Maya isn’t done with the suspect and decides to follow him on her own, only to be kidnapped. Once Maya is kidnapped Sam becomes sad and heads out looking for her, there is a close up of Sams face and he is distressed with tears running from his eyes. This visual codes will make the audience feel sympathetic towards Sam and shows us perhaps he is feeling stronger than just friendship for Maya. Sams nerves eventually get the better of him when he has to stop the car to refresh himself, standing there half-heartedly

he says into himself,’ The world is a scary place’ again this shows the audience he is thinking about Maya and wants to find her increasing their sympathy for him and overall making the viewers want to continue to watch to see the conclusion. The different audio codes used express Sams feeling for Maya as the non diegetic music plays softly whilst he cries and thinks about her, this corresponds with the visual codes creating a sympathetic feel for the protagonist making the audience pity him. Sam is unexpectedly struck by a speeding vehicle which brings me to sequence four.

Sam is struck very unexpectedly and this may have came as a shock to the audience, the accident is very unexpected and this is done deliberately to shock the audience as this scene is key to the viewers as it is where the storyline unfolds as after this it is based in 1973, where Sam time travels back in time.

The diegetic sounds used are very impacting, when the car hits Sam, initially there is a loud sound to signify he has been hit, after this all that can be heard is silence which corresponds with how the audience will feel, as they will be shocked at what has just happened. This creates enigma and increases the viewers curiosity to keep watching and they are now introduced to how Life on Mars is going to take place. (back in time) will Sam be okay? what will happen next? are few of the questions the audience will be asking making them exciting and encouraging them to keep watching.

Once Sam is hit and the audience are aware of what happened there is a close up of him laying vulnerably on the ground, this close up shot shows his eyes, wide open but yet not moving, with only police sirens and a heartbeat which is corresponding with Sams as he lays on the tarmac, creating tension and making the audience question if he is even alive. This close up then changes to a high shot as the camera slowly moves up, looking down on Sam which shows how empty the road is, no traffic just him. This suggests a change in time and expresses to the audience what has happened introducing them to 1973. These visual and technical codes all raise the audiences awareness causing them to ask questions and want to know the conclusion.

Sequence five is the most important as, Sam wakes up to find himself in 1973, complete with 1970s era clothing and an 8-track playing “Life on Mars” in a car. Dazed and confused, Sam wanders back to the police precinct he works at, only to find it filled with cigarette-smoking, gum-chewing strangers he’s never seen before. The music is significant as before the crash David Bowies 1970’s song “Life on Mars” was playing on Sams ipod in the car. This is strange as he has travelled back in time to when this song was just out and extremely popular.

Sams feeling are conveyed in different ways, with voices in his head from when he was a boy repeating,’ where are you?’ as he wakes up in a forest, obviously not where he was before. Creating enigma for the audience and making them aware of the time change increasing their excitement and want to continue watching.

When Sam stands up in 1973, with no clue as to where he is the camera is low angled and is circling him while “Life on Mars” plays which really creates a confusing atmosphere showing that Sam does not know what is going on. This technical camera work helps to express Sams feelings and shows the audience a broader understanding of what’s going on.

Everything has changed in Sams world, The set designs and costumes effectively evoke the era, as well as the grittiness of the run-down neighbourhood and police precinct. Everything feels straight out of the 70s, from the clothing to the cars to the horridly ugly decorating in Sam’s apartment.

Throughout the episode, Sam hears hospital noises and doctor voices and at one point sees a person on late night TV talking like a doctor describing Sam being in a coma. Sam becomes increasingly convinced that he truly is in a coma, and that none of this world is real. he believes it is all part of his imagination. These are some of the ways in which Sam portrays his feelings to the audience during this sequence. Which allows the audience to get to know Sam and begin to have a feel for his character encouraging them to continue to watch Life on Mars.

Later Sam meets a young police officer named Annie Cartwright who he begins to open up to and express his opinion and at one point tells her

“I had an accident and when I woke up, I was here. Only here is 33 years in the past. Now, that either makes me a time-traveller, a lunatic, or I’m lying in a hospital bed in 2006 and none of this is real.”

This quotation of what he says gives the audience insight into how he feels about the whole situation, this again allows the audience to engage with Sam and feel what he is going through, the audience will grow a certain like for Sam and this creates a sense of excitement and encourages the audience to continue to watch “Life on Mars”.

Cite this page

Media studies – Life on Mars. (2017, Aug 13). Retrieved from

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