Many have thought that Mars has once held life (you know, aside from Transformers and little green men) and "Roving Mars" is a look at some of the discoveries that have been made. The film is an IMAX feature that looks at NASA's attempts to build rovers Spirit and Opportunity and send them off to Mars to explore the surface of the planet.
Directed by George Butler (whose "Endurance" and "Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure" were excellent films regarding the explorer) and "presented as a public service" by Lockheed Martin, "Roving Mars" opens following the folks at NASA as they attempt to prepare the two rovers for their journey. However, things aren't going to be that easy: one wrong move and the rovers are done for. The fact that the parachute that was to be used for the Mars landing fails during the testing isn't exactly a good sign, either.
However, once all systems are go, the rocket is launched and only goes a certain distance into space, essentially propelling the section with the rovers forward, which drifts for months until it touches down on Mars. The film's Mars sequences are a combination of actual stills and CGI (obviously, since no one was there to film the events), but Butler follows mission control as it eagerly awaits the landing and starts getting data.
The documentary then follows as the rovers search the surface of the planet for signs of water and life billions of years ago. The main issue with the documentary is this portion of the film - or lack of it: the documentary spends so much time with the build-up to the rovers landing, the 39-minute documentary only has a rather short time for the even more interesting scenes on Mars. The film's ending is hopeful and upbeat, but also feels a little too quick. While IMAX documentaries are always in the range of about 40 minutes, this one seems to have bitten off more than it can chew, as its attempt to cover the events behind the rover launch feel as if they are, much like the rovers, just scraping the surface.
Overall, I can't help but think that "Roving Mars" should have been made as a feature-length documentary, as the subject matter simply feels too big to be adequately covered in just a hair under 40 minutes. Still, the documentary does deliver quite a few interesting tidbits about the rover mission and manages to be both educational and entertaining.
VIDEO: "Roving Mars" is presented in both 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and 1.33:1 full-frame by Disney. Both presentation options are accessible from the main menu. The footage early on looks a tad soft and shows some slight edge enhancement at times, but the CGI footage later in the film looks crisper and cleaner, with no noticable issues. Colors appear bright and well-saturated during the CGI scenes, but somewhat flatter during the Earth-set first portion.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack was outstanding during both the launch sequence and the Mars sequences, putting the surrounds to excellent use to immerse the viewer in the scene. The launch sequence offered some considerable bass and both the launch and Mars sequences used the rears to offer some enjoyable sound effects and ambience. Audio quality throughout the presentation was excellent, with crystal clear effects, a rich-sounding Philip Glass score (although, honestly not one of the composer's more memorable works) and clean, crisp narration.
EXTRAS: "Mars and Beyond", a lengthy (nearly an hour) and amusingly dated 1957 Disney documentary about the mysteries of the universe and space travel and a shorter look at the making of "Roving Mars", called, "Mars: Past, Present and Future", which offers comments from Rover team members, students and the filmmakers.
Final Thoughts: "Roving Mars" takes a giant NASA project and isn't entirely successful in trying to fit an overview of it into about 39 minutes, but what's here is impressive, enjoyable and informative. A recommended rental for those interested in the subject matter.