Good Night Oppy is amongst that rare breed, a documentary that is as fascinating and endearing as any fiction film. Depicting the journey of the Mar rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, from idea to creation to their time on the red planet, the documentary enlivens the audience with adventure, emotion, and the potential for human accomplishment. It is sublime and brilliant in how it shares the emotions of the NASA crew for their creations and their wonder at what the rovers were able to accomplish during their time on Mars.
Directed by Ryan White, the film utilizes many techniques to bring to life the story of Opportunity, the Mars rover that was only expected to operate 90 sols but lasted 15 years. The film uses footage from the rover itself, interviews with the scientists, engineers, and NASA crew that managed the mission, news clips, and music played during the rover’s time on Mars. With so many authentic sources, the film could have become overburdened with facts and figures. However, the interviews and footage focus on the scientific endeavor and the emotions the rover engendered in those on the mission. The scientists interviewed focus on the exploration of life on Mars, their primary mission, and they explain all the scientific concepts in easy terms for the audience. That simplicity helps the audience connect with the journey of the rover rather than bogging down on terminology.
Another factor that helps the film be successful is how the filmmakers lay out Opportunity’s path. They set up the journey by detailing how the idea got started with the Viking mission. They depict the creation of the robots and why the engineers ended up with such a human-looking robot. They move on to the tests of the two rovers, including how Spirit tended to have more interesting outcomes than the more perfect Opportunity. From launch to the details of Opportunity’s time on Mars, nothing is left out, the highs and lows, the adventures and the challenges, and most of all, how critical Opportunity was when it came to exploring how life might have once thrived on Mars.
Part of what assists the film with connecting to the emotional side of Opportunity’s explorations is the music chosen for the film. While the NASA crew played wake-up songs for the rovers and themselves, the movie uses wise choices to help illustrate the emotional connection the crew feels for Spirit and Opportunity. This is a wonderful exploration of the role the robots played in exploring Mars because it shows the wonder and delight of the scientists and engineers in what they accomplish and their creations. The songs tap into that emotion, let us see the ups and downs of the crew, and create an ending that will resonate with the audience.
If you love stories about NASA, human endeavor, and the spirit of human accomplishment, you might find this one of the most fascinating films this year. It gives us one of the most impactful moments of history, with two generations of scientists and engineers and their amazing feat of work. It is easy to understand the concepts, it is emotional and endearing, and the filmmaking is sublime. From beginning to end, I was captivated and enjoyed every moment, even though the ending was bittersweet.
Rating: 5 out of 5 craters
Good Night Oppy
The film follows Opportunity, the Mars Exploration Rover affectionately dubbed Oppy by her creators and scientists at NASA. Oppy was originally expected to live for only 90 days but she ultimately explored Mars for nearly 15 years.
GOOD NIGHT OPPY opens in select theaters on Friday, November 4, 2022, and launches on Amazon Prime Video on Wednesday, November 23, 2022.