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  • Roving Mars

    Posted in: Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on July 17th, 2007

    (out of 5)

    Mars has always held a certain fascination with us mostly earthbound humans. What child has never looked to the heavens at night, mind filled with more questions than they could ever hope to find answers for? If you are one of these star crossed dreamers, Roving Mars be a thrilling journey indeed. I’m sorry to say that I missed the Roving Mars IMAX experience. I’m sure it was available at one of the several IMAX facilities here in Tampa. Life, as usual, is often too busy to get to everything I want to see. As I wat…hed this DVD I found myself wishing I’d taken the time to see it at our local domed IMAX at MOSI.

    We begin our exploration in a familiar enough place, here on Earth. The environs, however, are not so commonplace. The people and the facilities at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab have a decidedly science fiction appearance to them. Here in clean rooms gather scientists in garb intended to keep them from contaminating the delicate equipment that is assembled here. Here over 4,000 people dream, design, and assemble. The result is a culmination of decades of technological work and over a millennium of imagination. We are treated to an intimate look behind the scenes as these incredible rovers are created. Interviews with crucial team members give us the failures as well as the success stories. Through trial and error every minute facet of this machine had to be built, tested, and more often than not, redesigned. Then the cycle begins anew. The time spent here might test our patience a tad. Still, it is important to understand the rover itself before we can appreciate the mission that we’re waiting to witness.

    The trip takes about 7 months. Lucky for us we don’t have to wait that long. Through simulation we get an accurate view of all the various stages of the mission. From liftoff to dramatic descent to the surface of Mars, no detail is left to the imagination. While the flight and landing must by necessity be recreated through simulation, there is plenty of real life drama. We are inside the control room with the team, waiting just as they did for final confirmation and the Holy Grail itself, the first pictures from a rover on Mars.

    Once on Mars the real work begins. Again it is necessary to have a generous amount of simulation. There aren’t any film crews on Mars to capture the action … yet. The actual photographs of the surface are what we’ve been waiting for, and they are glorious. It is in these moments, however, that I have my only real complaint about the feature. It is often unclear when we are seeing actual footage or simulation. While that’s a grand testament to the detail of the CG work, I want to know when I’m seeing the real thing. It would have been better if the simulated images were identified as such. You will find the transitions are remarkably seamless.


    You are given a choice between full screen or a remarkable 1.78:1 image. I went with the wide presentation. This picture was originally filmed for IMAX, so it is no wonder that the image is quite spectacular here. Colors are outstanding. The red hues of the Martian surface stand out in awe-inspiring clarity. There are no digital or print artifacts at all. Some of the NASA footage is in 4:3 and presented with the standard pillar box format. All of the footage stands up quite well. You will not be disappointed in these stunning images.


    The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is a bit of a surprise. I wasn’t sure how effective it might be in such a documentary. Boy, was I wrong. Subtle work blends the sounds of the liftoff particularly well. I have been to several launches, and the sub response here was not disappointing. I found myself brought back to the shuttle launches I had witnessed firsthand over the years. I even caught myself waiting for that great gusty breeze that follows those launches. Certainly much of the film is narration, but there are moments when the surrounds add greatly to the experience.

    Special Features

    “Mars and Beyond” This Disneyland presentation was televised in 1957. All I can say is, what a sweet touch for Disney to add this feature. What better way to appreciate this new age of information on Mars than a look back 50 years to what we believed then. The nearly one hour feature provides classic Disney animation mixed with real scientists from the era to speculate on life on Mars. A nice review of the development and evolution of life on Earth leads to some rather wild speculation. We get a look at imagined Ion Drive ships thought to eventually bring colonies of humans to Mars in the future.

    “Mars: Past, Present, and Future” At 25 minutes this feature could well have been a part of the film. More clips from the rover team and the filmmakers. It works as a rather nice primer on Mars..

    Final Thoughts

    The film contains a lot of talk about the eventuality of sending humans to Mars. If you ask me, we’ve been dragging our feet for too long now. Hopefully this film will inspire the decision makers of today and tomorrow with the benefits to manned space exploration. Certainly it’s risky, but as Kennedy once said: “We try not because it’s easy.” He added it is because it is very hard that the task is worth doing. Those who claim we get nothing out of the billions we spend on space are ignorant of the flood of everyday products and medications that are a direct result of space exploration. There was once a day when folks living here in Florida knew a hurricane was coming when the trees started to kiss the ground. Today we have days’ warning of such catastrophic events. While we can’t erase the impact of these storms completely, we have certainly reduced the death tolls by thousands. I hope this film allows us to move closer to that day, when hopefully in my lifetime I hear someone say: “Ladies and gentlemen….Mars.”

    Special Features List

    • Mars and Beyond
    • Mars: Past, Present, and Future
    Posted In: 1.33:1 Fullscreen, 1.78:1 Widescreen, Disc Reviews, Disney, Documentary, Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), DVD

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