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Roving Mars Review

By Shawn McKenzie 01/27/2006

I haven’t seen an IMAX movie since the IMAX re-release of The Lion King back in 2002, so I was interested in seeing Roving Mars.  After seeing it, I wasn’t completely impressed.

Documentary filmmaker George Butler (1977’s Pumping Iron and its 1985 sequel; 2000’s The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition; 2004’s Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry) follows the scientists and technicians of NASA as they prepare to launch two robotic rovers heading for Mars.  The Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the Institute of Technology in Pasadena, CA, work with a team of scientists and engineers as they design, manufacture, and shoot out into space the Spirit and the Opportunity…the two tetrahedron-shaped robotic rovers with the mission of landing on the Red Planet and exploring its surface.  If successful, they hope that the rovers, which look like a little bit like Johnny 5 from the 1986 movie Short Circuit, can prove that water once existed on the planet.

The movie opens with narration by actor Paul Newman, but then principal geologist Steve Squyres takes over for most of this 40-minute film.  According to the movie, there have been several attempts to send rovers to Mars, but they have ended in disaster.  The reason for this is that it takes a rover seven months to travel 300 million miles to the planet…only for it to have to land precisely in the right spot.  They equate this with shooting a basketball travel from Los Angeles to New York and hitting the net without touching the rim.  In 2004, they managed that feat, and they were able to send back the first surface pictures of Mars.

Since you can’t fill a whole movie with just still pictures, a team of CGI experts recreated the experience.  They show the real rovers on Earth, but once they are shot out in space, it’s all animation (the rumbling sound of the IMAX theater made for an exciting display of their travel through space, but I read that there were a few scientists that were a little upset by the inserted sounds…since there is no sound in space.)  The rovers are shot out into space and land on the planet covered in big airbags, allowing for it to land on the surface safely.  The Spirit was sent to Mars first, followed by the Opportunity three weeks later.  The movie tries to make the Spirit landing look suspenseful…as if the mission might not be successful.  Not to spoil things…but both of the rovers make it (otherwise…what would be the point of releasing this movie, just to show a failing mission?)

The problem with Roving Mars is that it isn’t impressive enough.  Sure…it looks cool on the IMAX screen, but if you were to see it on a TV screen, you would find yourself saying…“Eh.”  If a movie isn’t impressive on any screen, it’s not worth paying the expensive IMAX ticket prices.  If you are into scientific documentaries, or you are a kid curious about science (specifically space exploration), I would recommend it…but only on the IMAX screen (once it hits DVD, your interest may wane.)


Get Roving Mars: Spirit, Opportunity, and the Exploration of the Red Planet, written by Steve Squyres:

Buy this book at

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Catch this movie at the theater if you can...

Wait until it comes out on video...

Wait until it plays on HBO, Showtime, Starz, etc...

Demand your money back, even if you saw it for free!

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