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Disney IMAX Movie Roving Mars
Jan 27, 2006: Roving Mars IMAX Movie Review

The newest IMAX movie, Roving Mars, is a winner. Made by Walt Disney Pictures and presented as a public service by Lockheed Martin, this movie tells the story of the two Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity. I had the opportunity to see the movie at a special advance screening at the Navy Pier IMAX Theatre.

In the movie, ample time is devoted to explaining the technological hurdles associated with getting the rovers built, launched, and landed safely on Mars. The style of the movie is very documentary-like. The movie soundtrack was done by Philip Glass and complements the film nicely.

Especially spectacular is the movie's digital re-creation of Spirit's launch from Earth and descent to the Martian surface. As I was watching the movie, I wondered if these special effects had been produced by Dan Maas of Maas Digital. Maas Digital had previously created various MER-related animations for the NOVA special Mars Dead or Alive, which was nominated for two Emmy awards. The credits confirmed my suspicion. You can find out more about Maas Digital and their Mars work at Maas Digital.

Aside from the special effects, the panoramic views of the Martian surface have an impact all their own. When that first big screen view of the surface is shown, it brings to mind Buzz Aldrin's phrase "magnificent desolation". Some may look at this desert setting and think of a wasteland. Others, like myself, see this as a world of opportunity and imagination. The movie closes with a wonderful view of Endurance Crater. It is the sand ripples of Endurance Crater that served as the source for the image Sands of Mars.

The Friday Jan. 27 edition of the Chicago Tribune featured a review of the movie under the title "Roving Mars misfires in re-creating space thrills" and gives the movie two stars. Apparently the reviewer was not thrilled with its documentary nature, an aspect I considered important to the movie. I found the interviews with the various scientists, especially Steve Squyres of Cornell University, very informative. While interviews are not standard fare for IMAX movies, the opportunity to see and hear from the scientists involved should not be belittled simply because it's not visually exciting.

The Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity's Heatshield on the surface of Mars
Opportunity view of its heatshield on the plains of Meridiani.

I have only two disappointments with the movie. First, I wish that it could have been longer than 40 minutes in order to devote more time to showing the surface of Mars as revealed by the rovers Spirit and Opportunity. Second, this movie would have been even more spectacular if it had been filmed in 3D.

My recommendation is this: if you are at all interested in space in general or Mars in particular, then you should see this movie. In fact I look forward to seeing this movie again. You can see a promo for the movie at the Roving Mars web site.

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