Roving Mars [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (9th August 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.


Much like the standard DVD counterpart, this release includes two ratios in which the film is presented in, the original IMAX ratio of 1.33:1 and also a widescreen ratio of 1.78:1. Both of which were created using AVC MPEG-4 compression and in full 1080p high-definition at 24/fps. IMAX films are virtually tailor made high-definition as this image is beautiful but doesn't quite reach the levels of reference quality. Sharpness and detail are unparalleled this is for sure; the 70mm film which was used to shot this documentary picks up an astounding amount of detail compared to standard 35mm (It also helps if you had a gigantic screen to fully appreciate it though...) Similar to the DVD release colors are rich and bold with skin tones of the participants appearing natural. However this transfer is not as perfect as one expects there were some instances of edge-enhancement and I also found several scenes marred by banding. This certainly took me by surprise as I expected this release to have an impeccable presentation.


Four audio tracks are included on this release which are in English Uncompressed PCM 5.1 Surround mixed at 16-Bit / 48kHz / 4.6Mbps as well as 640 kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in English French and Spanish. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its English PCM soundtrack. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track as seen on the DVD release (and on this one too) is a good example of an effective sound mix, especially for a documentary, it draws you in and provides a wonderful audio experience, the uncompressed PCM 5.1 track is exactly that but slightly better, adding a further punch to the overall package. While primary focus is on dialogue we are also treated to a wonderfully spacious Philip Glass score that virtually flies through the sound space creating an encapsulating effect. The CG sequences add a bit more aggressiveness to the track and display the range of this mix.

Optional subtitles are included in English for the hearing impaired, French and Spanish.


Buena Vista has released this film with only a few extras that includes a vintage television special, a featurette plus a collection of bonus trailers. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

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.

Also on the disc are a series of bonus trailers for:

- "Meet the Robinsons" which runs for 2 minutes 30 seconds.
- "Blu-ray" promo spot which runs for 54 seconds.

Finally this first disc also includes a "Movie Showcase" which jumps to three key reference scenes that show off the high-definition quality.


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


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