I distinctly remember when grainy black and white images NASA rover Spirit transmitted from Mars temporarily hijacked the world’s attention. That first on-the-surface glimpse of an alien topography revealed terrain not unlike our own, igniting curiosity and speculation about what the rover would uncover. In the mission control room at NASA, those images ended an emotional multi-year journey filled with trials, tribulations, and an unquestionable will to succeed.
Disney’s Roving Mars, which originally debuted on IMAX, is a short 40-minute tribute to the NASA mission that successfully landed not one, but two rovers on the planet’s surface. Director George Butler was granted access to the most sterile environments during the rovers” construction and testing phases, and ultimately allowed control room access for the tense moments before, during and after the first rover, Spirit, began its descent through the Martian atmosphere. The uncertain and sometimes fearful expressions on each scientists” face as they await a radio transmission from Spirit indicating it survived a violent landing is a touching, emotional moment that perfectly exemplifies the team’s investment made before it.
Some of the most compelling imagery in Roving Mars are CGI-rendered examples of how Spirit and Opportunity escaped the Earth’s atmosphere, land on Mars, and traversed the rocky terrain in search of geological evidence of water and/or life. The 1080p AVC Blu-ray Disc transfer splendidly displays these engaging scenes with little drop-off in quality when the focus shifts to life-action. The only real issue is due to the short 40-minute runtime, it’s hard to imagine there isn’t much more story to visually tell.
The first twenty minutes of Roving Mars focus on building and testing the rovers which leaves the audio relegated to front-channel voiceover work. The 5.1 channel 48 kHz 24-bit uncompressed soundtrack does suddenly jolts to life with a wind tunnel parachute test, then continues to impressively deliver full channel information and impressive LFE during Spirit’s launch and landing. Unfortunately the parachute test is not included as a Movie Showcase bookmark, but is certainly worth several return trips to.
Aside from Buena Vista’s standard Movie Showcase trio of bookmarks, the Blu-ray version of Roving Mars contains identical extra features to those found on the standard DVD version, which is being released day-and-date. Only the Blu-ray extras are presented in either 1080p or 1080i, a specification the standard DVD cannot tout.
First up is a 25-minute featurette, Mars: Past, Present and Future, offering reflections from Butler, the rover team, and the Imagine Mars youth program whose membership could very well contain the first person to step foot on Mars in the future. This featurette comes across as an extension of the film with a lot of duplicate frames balanced by new information. Also included is Mars and Beyond, the original 1957 Disney short film that investigates the mysteries of the Universe, Mars included. At 52 minutes, the film is chock full of cheesy animation, nostalgia, and some surprisingly successful predictions.
Roving Mars is a gripping, albeit too short, reminder of the Martian mission that took the world by storm. With several all-CGI scenes and a few moments of bombastic audio, the Blu-ray version is hands-down the best way to experience the out-of-this-world documentary. After the credits roll, it’s hard to imagine Spirit and Opportunity are still alive and kicking, years after their design specifications stated they should have permanently shut off. A Roving Mars 2 might be in order if NASA keeps discovering new and creative ways to keep the little guys ticking.
– Dan Bradley