Roving Mars

Paul Newman as Narrator
Steve Squyres as Himself

“Roving Mars” is an interesting look at the Mars rover mission. But like the Red Planet itself, it can be dry at times.

The following is the official synopsis of the film:

“The mysterious Red Planet, Mars, has inspired countless science fiction dreams and nightmares. Now, for the first time, experience the reality of the Mars surface as seen through the eyes of two intrepid, death-defying explorers — Spirit and Opportunity, the Mars Rovers — in the spectacular new giant screen adventure “Roving Mars,” exclusively in IMAX theatres. The phenomenal size and clarity of the IMAX screen draws the viewer into a spectacular landscape that is at once awe-inspiring and amazing. And the suspenseful drama of the Rovers’ dogged quest over the rugged terrain may even answer that persistently haunting question – Is there life on Mars? Produced by Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Frank Marshall (“Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” “The Sixth Sense,” “Seabiscuit”) and produced and directed by George Butler (“The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition,” “Pumping Iron”), with executive producer Scott Swofford (“Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure”), this film takes moviegoers on a fantastic journey unlike any that has ever been seen on the giant screen before. “Roving Mars” was written by George Butler and Robert Andrus, with narration written by George Butler. Multiple Oscar-nominated composer Philip Glass (“The Hours,” “Kundun”) adds to the excitement with his brilliant score.”

“Roving Mars” is rated G.

What Worked:
If you’re into space exploration, then “Roving Mars” will be right up your alley. It’s an in-depth look at the Mars rovers that takes you from their initial construction up through their continuing missions on the red planet. As an engineer by day (and a crime fighting movie reviewer by night), I was interested in all the engineering problems they had making the rover. From ripping supersonic parachutes to communications challenges to dust covered solar panels, it was quite a challenge for the engineers. As a space buff, I got a kick out of seeing high resolution images from Mars and great looks at the rocks found there. I also enjoyed the recreations of the rocket launch and rover landing. They start out with actual footage of the rocket launch then cut to CG animation (ala “Apollo 13″). You get a real sense of the power and precision of the machinery. The final landing on Mars is even more impressive. You’ve seen the animated recreations on the evening news, but these are even more realistic.

What Didn’t Work:
As exciting as the subject matter is, I have to admit that it can be a bit dry at times. A significant portion of the film is spent on the design and construction of the rovers. While I found it interesting, I imagine most people care more about the actual footage from Mars itself. Even then, after the exciting trip there, it kind of loses its steam. Let’s face it – it’s a rover that inches along in a red desert. It’s not Arnold battling mutants with huge explosions and massive dust storms. There’s only so long you can look at the real world footage before realizing it’s essentially the same stuff over and over. Fortunately, at about a 35 minute running time the film doesn’t overstay its welcome. I think this would have been a perfect film to present in 3D, though. It would have looked great with rockets flying out of the screen and 3-D rovers rolling across the Martian landscape. It could have used the extra “oomph” to make it more interesting.

The Bottom Line:
You’ll probably find “Roving Mars” worth checking out if you downloaded images from the rovers online. However, this is the kind of movie you’re probably more interested in checking out at the museum or Space Center rather than at the local movie theater over the weekend. This is more education than entertainment.

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