"Space, the Final Frontier. But first, Mars."
Okay, "The Charge" is something of a joke. My joke, to be precise. I suppose after years of being a science fiction nut, I couldn't resist. But don't let my attempts at levity dissuade you from checking this disc out if you get the opportunity, if you're a fan of sci-fi or if you have a great interest in all things Space or Other Planets. The Red Planet Mars is an extremely well done disc that showcases the full breadth of what's possible with the DVD format.
The two "major" answers you receive when you ask, "What does DVD stand for?" are "Digital Video Disc" and "Digital Versatile Disc." This one definitely falls under the latter heading, all the way. It's not a movie, nor is it a simple picture book, or even a collection of videos. This is something that could never be done with linear tape. The contents of this disc are fully indexed and presented so you can jump around as you feel like, and include static text screens, high resolution videos, interactive maps, and even some three dimensional images for use with the included "red-and-blue" 3D cardboard glasses.
Constructed from NASA scans of Mars, The Red Planet Mars has extremely detailed maps of the planet, available almost anyway you'd care to peruse them. Never have people outside dedicated research facilities had such exquisite detail available to them to enjoy. If that's not clear enough, let me be blunt. These maps are good. The resolution is extremely high, and you can pick out very fine surface features even from the highest orbital views that are included. Craters and ridgelines, even mountains, stand out in stark contrast to the surrounding terrain, and valley plains are clearly discernable.
Working through what's available in order, your first menu option is "missions," which lists various NASA efforts throughout the decades since the world began exploring space (1960), and proceeds forward by decade. Each decade lists the individual efforts (projects or launches) and provides short text summaries of it, including results or expected results (for items that haven't occurred or been resolved yet, like some of those from the latter half of the '90s and in the '00s.
Next are the interactive maps, and they are a lot of fun to click through. Using your arrow controls on the DVD remote, you can rotate the planet around, pick features to zoom in on, and eventually get some very close, very high-resolution images of specific terrain features. Spend some time scrolling the planet, looking at the scans. It's quite revealing.
Planetary View collects six angle views of Mars and displays them in slow orbital rotation, accompanied by orchestral arrangements. The angle button on your remote lets you switch between them at will, finding the view that best suits what you're looking for at the moment. Surface Views collects the data retrieved by the Mars Pathfinder mission, again presenting it in stunning high resolution. You can watch the panoramic view from the mast of the stationary lander, enjoy a three dimensional view with the included 3D glasses, click through an interactive series of close views of specific features discovered and mapped by the Pathfinder rover, and read some text displays about Martian microbial life.
The Gallery presents art collections from three different artists, and a fourth that takes the orbital views of Mars and cues them to orchestral arrangements themed on the planets of the solar system, and also the Sun.
Entertainment mode is the "party" feature of the disc. It randomly cycles through the selections available on the disc in full frame mode, and changes anytime you use your "next chapter" button. The full range of the disc becomes available while Entertainment mode is active, everything but the interactive requirements. Everything but something requiring user input (like the surface interactive maps, or the scrolling/zooming maps of the planet). Included in this mode are NASA launch clips, which have some amazing footage in them. The plume of fire and smoke is a wondrous sight to behold at the very edge of the Earth's atmosphere. It should be seen to be believed.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
A minor complaint is the quirky menus, not the main disc menus, but the interactive menus. Sometimes the arrows don't scroll through on screen options in the manner you think they should, and some on screen options aren't even accessible at all, which is a bit disappointing, not to mention confusing.
It should also be noted I do not possess a DVD-ROM drive, and so was unable to review any of the PC features. I trust they match the quality level of the rest of the disc. However, since many users would be using their shelf DVD players with the disc, this isn't all that bad. I do look forward to, hopefully in a few months, being able to access the rest of the disc.
Another innovative use of the DVD format, one that will hopefully catch on with other production houses. There is a lot of functionality in the format, and it's good to see it being tapped. The Red Planet Mars earns high marks for everything involved with it, with no downside at all for anyone interested in space.
If you like space and science fiction, take a look. Good party disc, especially in the background. Very well done.
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