Roving Mars
R1 - America - Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (24th July 2007).
The Film

The gimmick of IMAX has long since vanished, once a bastion for large-scale documentaries the format has expanded allowing exhibition of major Hollywood films on the screens to supplement their falling profits. As a result fewer screens are left and fewer documentaries are shown. The Disney produced "Roving Mars" was one of the breakout IMAX hits of last year (earning around $60 million during its run). The format is simple: shot on 70mm film and exhibited on giant screens. The execution is a little harder, especially when shooting at NASA as the crew of "Roving Mars" had to do, bringing in massive cameras, film equipment including camera cranes into sterile environments where the robots where being made.
Space buffs will more than likely get a kick out of this all-access pass into the behind-the-scenes of NASA as they develop, design, build and launch the two Mars exploration robots 'Spirit' and 'Opportunity', the film is also narrated by Hollywood legend Paul Newman and accompanied by a beautiful score by Philip Glass. The filmmakers get a peek at operational command on that unprecedented day when the mission was a success and the first images from the red planet came through. The film is structured like most documentaries, with interviews of key personnel edited with footage from NASA and also some CG imagery of the landing process and Martian landscape. The CG was one of the major disappointments, those expecting to see amazing Mars footage of the landscape in giant format are partly out of luck (while some footage is used) the majority is in fact computer generated.
In many ways this film reminds me of educational films shown to students in a 6th grade science class (the credits even make the note that this film is 'presented as a public service') and only lasts around 40 minutes. This all-to-brief runtime really leaves much more to be desired, since the filmmaker's seemed to have unprecedented access it would have been great to delve deeper into the mission and provide more information on the development and spend some time on the design and assembly of these robots too. Instead it really just covers the basics, enough to inform, entertain and shuffle audiences into as many sessions as they can fit during the course of a day. And speaking of which unless you have a 4-story tall movie screen in your home I'm afraid the whole IMAX 'experience' is essentially lost on DVD.
"Roving Mars" is a cool little documentary that will pass the time if you're bored or if you're generally interested in Mars exploration. The thin runtime and mostly CG sequences were not what I was expecting and the over $20 price tag is a bit steep; I suggest waiting until it hits the bargain bins.

Video

Two ratios are included, the original IMAX ratio of 1.33:1 and also a widescreen ratio of 1.78:1. Whichever version you choose to watch the image is simply stunning. It's sharp and beautifully detailed; the 70mm film picks up an incredible amount of detail (this can only look better in high-definition). Colors are rich and bold with skin tones appearing spot on. Black levels are impeccably deep. The image is simply crystal clear with hardly an imperfection (some archival footage displays grain though), finally no compression related issues were found. This is a brilliant looking image that one can consider reference quality as far as documentary films go.

Audio

Three audio tracks are included in English, French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its English soundtrack. Considering this is a documentary one would assume that the soundtrack would be front-heavy, but "Roving Mars" is an immersive experience, this isn't just a documentary it's an IMAX film and the professional sound mix is transferred over faithfully here on DVD. The primary focus is on dialogue but the score simply sores throughout the surround channels, effect surrounds come to life during some of the more intense CG sequences such as the rover landing on Mars, in those cases the sound is well balanced and the booming bass comes into play. As far as 5.1 surround tracks go it won't turn heads but it will leave an impression.
Optional subtitles are included in English for the hearing impaired, French and Spanish.

Extras

First up we have "Mars: Past, Present & Future" a featurette which runs for 24 minutes 44 seconds. This takes a look at the project and shooting at NASA's Mars program. The filmmakers take us through the process of creating an IMAX film as the rover crew share their thoughts and experiences on both the project and scientific discoveries they made and on the film as well. This makes a for a decent supplement to the feature documentary.

Next up is "Mars and Beyond" a 1957 Walt Disney produced television special made for the series "Disneyland", which runs for 52 minutes 44 seconds. Disney himself introduces this animated special that investigates the mysteries of the universe. It's a wonderful vintage look at what space travel meant to people and science back then and finding life on distant worlds. It's a cool piece of Disney history that's worth a look.

Rounding out the extras are a series of bonus trailers for:
- "Underdog" which runs for 1 minute 12 seconds.
- "Meet the Robinsons" which runs for 2 minutes 30 seconds.
- "Blu-ray" promo spot which runs for 54 seconds.

Overall

The Film: B- Video: A+ Audio: B Extras: B+ Overall: B+

 


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