Disney // 2006 // 40 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // August 9th, 2007
The ultimate adventure -- journey to the surface of the red planet.
Many years ago I used to be an astronomy, or is it astrology, enthusiast, even possessing a telescope and subscriptions to two space-related publications. Then I guess I grew out of it -- just wasn't interested in it anymore, I don't know. So when you see large scale NASA projects that consist primarily of a group of seemingly pale, friendless virgins congratulating one another, you are never really let in on why or a particular event is so groundbreaking. The passion these scientists and engineers have for space travel and exploration never really translates well, largely because of both an apathetic news cycle and American public.
The IMAX film Roving Mars looks at the undertaking of constructing and launching the Spirit and Opportunity probes, both of which were designed to touch down on Mars and explore the terrains of the red planet. Enter George Butler, director of documentaries like Pumping Iron and Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure. He managed to follow the group at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory from testing to its final product. The project started several years before, and the probes managed to successfully land on Mars in January 2004. The probes had been designed to only last several months, but here we are forty-three months later, and the probes are still going strong, like the proverbial Energizer bunny. The runup to landing was laid out like the proverbial drama, however when the probes do land, the cameras are one of a handful that are allowed into the room when the success is first discovered.
Never having seen the IMAX technology up close and personal (a bit shameful on my part since I live ten minutes away from an IMAX theater), I was blown away by the level of detail both in the quality of the probes and the resulting footage they capture of Mars. Admittedly, the probes on the planet are recreations of the landings, based on radio transmissions, but the computer generated recreations produce a staggering amount of detail, combined with real pictures from the probes. The MPEG-4 encoded transfer looks good, especially during the computer generated sequences. The PCM soundtrack is a definite room shaker, particularly during the recreated probe sequence that sets the course of things to Mars. My wife was reading the paper, and being calm, and the bass from the rocket boosters and rocket jettisons almost shook the paper from her hands. It's well worth the investment in a good sound system with something like this.
Extras wise, there are two other short films to go with this one. The first is "Mars: Past, Present, and Future," a twenty five minute feature which to a small extent covers the making of the film, but serves as a longer interview feature with those intimately involved with the project. They discuss their first inspirations for space, along with their recollections of the film, since this was released in 2006, a full two years after the probe landed. They also talk about the future of Mars and the viability for future travels, and the "Project Mars" project is given some time to show their objective. All in all, it's a good piece. The kitschy feature here is a Disney look at space travel, hosted by Walt Disney and produced in 1957. "Mars and Beyond" is a novel inclusion, but this thing is way too long, and the whole joke of space travel and the perception of it a half century ago wears thin rather quickly. Randal was right, where are the friggin' rocket cars?
Roving Mars winds up being a solid film, letting the visuals speak for themselves. If there is a disappointing part of the film, it's that Paul Newman (The Color of Money) narrates the film, but only the first five minutes of it or so. Past the Newman narration, the film looks good, sounds amazing, and above all else, you really understand not only the effort the engineers, scientists and others put into getting Spirit and Opportunity into space but the payoff they experience. They cry, hug and cheer for a reason, and to see someone actually take the time to show the impact that the findings from the satellites have had on discovering more of our solar system is really nice to see. If you get someone in front of a camera who can talk that passionately about it as these guys do, more people would be interested in space exploration in my opinion. If you've got a Blu-ray player and a big television, it's worth a rental at the very least.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* PCM 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 40 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Rated G
* Bonus Movie "Mars and Beyond"
* "Mars: Past, Present & Future" Featurette
* Project Mars
* Official NASA Mars Rovers Website