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An Imax documentary charting the planning and execution of a NASA's "Rover" mission to Mars. A team of scientists, geologists and engineers design vehicles named Spirit and Opportunity, which will analyse minerals and transmit images from the distant planet. The greatest challenge lies in ensuring the craft land safely on the rocky Martian surface. After seven months in space, Spirit and Opportunity are guided successfully to their destination and begin supplying answers to the enduring question of whether life may ever have existed on Mars.

Review by Richard Kuipers:
Too small for the giant Imax screen, Roving Mars is an interesting enough documentary about space exploration but doesn't deliver sufficient gee-whizzery for the ticket price. One problem here is the results of this mission have been extensively reported in the two years Spirit and Opportunity have been roving the Martian landscape. Unlike the best Imax adventures - Titanic 3-D and Aliens Of The Deep (both directed by James Cameron) - this one doesn't carry the heightened sense of discovery and wonderment audiences have come to expect from the giant screen format. Another, much more significant holdback is the necessary use of computer-generated imagery for the space flight to Mars and just about everything else we see of the Red Planet. Very little footage has been sourced from cameras on board the probes, leaving us with a technically impressive but somehow slightly deflating special effects show.

Directed by George Butler (Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure), Roving Mars does, however, boast a couple of genuine stars in roving robots Spirit and Opportunity. Resembling souped-up versions of Number 5, the cheeky pile of nuts and bolts in Short Circuit (1986), these creations are true marvels and it's no surprise to hear them referred to in human terms by their creators. The actual human factor isn't as generally impressive as the robots. A roster of super-enthusiastic scientists overdoes the analogies (reminding us that this is a Disney film, after all) and too often they speak in sentences sounding like press releases from NASA and project partner Lockheed Martin. Still, given the drastic financial cutbacks at NASA lately, we can at least understand the propensity for sales pitching. The panel of experts is most engaging when discussing the minute details of Spirit and Opportunity's operating systems and the enormous difficulty in landing the intricately wired gizmos on a surface 480 million kilometers away.

Getting audiences involved with this particular exercise and sharing in the triumph is helped to some extent by the revelation that two-thirds of all Mars missions have ended in failure. For all its shortcomings, Roving Mars has the basic subject matter - "is there life on Mars" and "how on Earth did they get those robots there safely" - to hold the interest for the 40 minute running time, but it just doesn't have enough ooh's and aah's for your buck.

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(US, 2006)

NARRATION: Introduction by Paul Newman

PRODUCER: George Butler, Frank Marshall

DIRECTOR: George Butler


CINEMATOGRAPHER: T.C. Christensen, Matthew Williams

EDITOR: Not credited

MUSIC: Philip Glass


RUNNING TIME: 40 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 30, 2006 (Sydney); August 16, 2007 (Sydney)

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