The documentary explores the mission behind two Mars rovers, Opportunity and Spirit, and the team that worked tirelessly on the project for 15 years
Last Updated: 05.14 PM, Nov 23, 2022
Story: NASA sent two rovers named Opportunity and Spirit to Mars in 2003 to collate data on the red planet’s geology. What was meant to be a mission that was supposed to last just a few months ended up being a 15-year endeavour.
Review: There is no dearth of documentaries these days owing to the fact that streaming platforms have churned out excellent documentaries on true crime, science fiction, sports, and more. So the onus is always on the creators to deliver new and thought-provoking content that does not feel repetitive. The creators of Good Night Oppy crafted a documentary unique in aesthetic and packed with emotion. One might be forgiven if they confused some of the clips to be from a Pixar animation film. In retrospect, the documentary is a blend of Wall-E and The Martian.
The most striking aspect of the documentary is that, despite most of the archival footage being from more than a decade ago, it does not appear outdated. The filmmakers have carefully edited this footage along with the interviews from those featured in the footage to give a ‘movie flashback’ aesthetic. But what’s more impressive is the CGI recreation of the Mars rovers in Mars. It’s extraordinary how it appears far more realistic than the CGI of most big-budget blockbusters. While these technical aspects certainly add quality to the documentary, it is the stories told by those involved in the mission that makes the documentary compelling.
The rovers Opportunity and Spirit are almost brought to life as self-aware beings because of how invested people were in the project. The AI in these rovers certainly adds a sense of anthropomorphism, and it compels the audience to feel attached to these robotic machines. But what truly drives the documentary forward is the incredible stories of the scientists and engineers involved in the project — detailing the various challenges they had to endure over the years. The documentary even highlights the ridicule they had to face from the media when a mission fails. There is even a clip of former late-night talk show host David Letterman making a joke at the expense of the NASA scientists, questioning their intelligence.
Hollywood veteran Angela Bassett serves as the voice for rover messages relayed back to NASA in the documentary. The Black Panther: Wakanda Forever star is excellent as ever but at times under-utilised. Another drawback worth mentioning is the fact that the documentary does not delve too much into the science behind the mission, nor is there a great deal of emphasis on the scientific discovery from Mars. But it could be argued that the human story behind the mission is the focus of the documentary.
Verdict: While it does lack the thrill or intrigue of director Ryan White’s previous documentary Assassins, it certainly makes for an engrossing watch thanks to its layered narrative. Good Night Oppy is a tribute to the engineers and scientists at NASA who worked tirelessly for the success of Opportunity and Spirit.