Documentarian George Butler, whose last film Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry hardly put a dent in Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign, has teamed with Michael Moore punching-bag Lockheed Martin to bring us Roving Mars, a 40-minute IMAX adventure about the sweat it took NASA to successfully launch and land Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity on the red planet last year. When Butler introduced the film at one of its press screenings, he began each sentence confidently only to allow his voice to trail off into a distant whisper. Was he parodying Will Forte’s SNL character Tim Calhoun or mimicking the sound of someone blasting into outer space? Regardless, Roving Mars isn’t much of a discovery. Butler provides the footage of NASA techies tweaking Spirit and Opportunity and testing their proposed flights while computer animation simulates each rover’s successful landing and trek through a designated section of Mars. Way past their expiration dates and separated by hundreds of miles of Martian terrain, Spirit and Opportunity emerge as dying, lonely frontier creatures; this anthropomorphism isn’t surprising (this a Disney film after all), but it’s scarcely affecting—pity no one at NASA equipped the machines with portable penguin suits. Based on actual photos the rovers continue to buzz back to planet Earth, the CGI landscapes are impressive but the camera maneuvers are ungodly. The real bummer? It’s not in 3-D!
- George Butler
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