GOOD NIGHT OPPY (2022) l Prime | November 23, 2022
Director: Ryan White
A spirited documentary about the exploration rover Opportunity, its ambitious 15-year journey across Mars, and the team of scientists and engineers that made the vessel part of their aerospace family.
TIFF REVIEW BY: Darren Zakus
Good Night Oppy is a fascinating and emotionally engaging look at two rovers’ mission to Mars in search of evidence of life on the planet that weaves a truly incredible story over the course of the documentary.
When I pick a documentary to watch, it has to be about a subject matter that interests me. Normally, this means the documentaries revolve around filmmaking, music, or like this one, space exploration. Narrated beautifully by Angela Bassett, the documentary follows NASA scientists as they create two rovers to Mars. Their goal: to discover any evidence indicating that water existed at some point on the planet’s surface, which would support the conclusion that Mars was able to maintain life at some point in time.
We follow the mission from its inception, seeing it being planned, the rovers being designed and how the scientists and engineers worked on ensuring that they could land the rovers on Mars, providing valuable insight for the audience into the inner workings at NASA. The original mission was meant to last for only ninety days, as the scientists predicted the technology would not last much longer on Mars due to weather conditions and temperatures. However, a miracle happened, and the mission ended up lasting far longer than anyone could have imagined, which becomes the focus for the second half of the documentary.
The audience follows the two rovers, Opportunity and Spirit, on their adventures on Mars, get to know their personalities, witness their achievements and tribulations, and like the scientists and engineers at NASA (some of whom spent over a decade of their lives with these two rovers), form an emotional connection to them. It results in an unexpected bond with the audience that fully draws you into the story of the documentary, which can be tricky when it’s one that revolves around science as the documentary can become too technical, and resulting in moments where you will get emotional watching the film. I swear I was wiping away tears near the end of the documentary, which is not something I expected to get from a film about two rovers on Mars.
Balanced with the rovers is a look at the personal lives of the scientists and engineers, seeing how their lives were impacted by this incredible mission and how these rovers became like family to them. It’s truly fascinating and moving to see how these rovers impacted the lives of the scientists and engineers, as it’s not something you think of when you see news headlines about space exploration, and the documentary does a wonderful job finding the human story on a personal level.
While the documentary uses archival footage and interviews for the portion of the film spent following the NASA scientists and engineers, director Ryan White insisted that audiences be transported to Mars to fully experience Opportunity and Spirit’s journey. To do so, he worked tirelessly with Industrial Light and Magic to recreate Mars’s surface through CGI, and the results are simply stunning! It’s a photo real visualization of Mars, with every single detail being exactly what you would find on the surface, down to the individual rock. It’s a visual wonder that is so real that your mind truly believes that this is real footage shot on the surface of Mars as you watch the two rovers do their work on the remote planet. The same goes with the CGI recreation of Opportunity and Spirit, it never feels like you are watching a CGI character but a real life character that could jump right off the screen. It’s a testament to the talented artists at Industrial Light and Magic who have delivered what is without a doubt some of the best CGI I have seen in any film in recent years, and is a cinematic experience that must be experienced on the big screen and IMAX if possible.
But White’s dedication to create the most realistic recreation of Mars does not stop with the special effects. For the sound design and editing, alongside sound designer Mark Magini, who worked on Dune and Mad Max: Fury Road, White and Magini have used audio recordings from Perseverance, the rover that replaced Spirit and Opportunity, to create a sound environment of Mars that is fully authentic. It’s such a small detail that will be lost on most audiences, but it truly helps to create a true experience that most films cannot conjure up. As you will learn in the documentary itself, NASA used popular songs as “wake up” songs for Spirit and Opportunity, and a small sampling of these songs are featured in the film, which only heighten the emotion and excitement of this wonderful documentary.
It’s nothing short of a technical marvel with such dedicated direction from Ryan White, who has in a single film quickly become one of my favourite documentary filmmakers. Emotionally beautiful, awe inspiring and a visual masterpiece, Good Night Oppy is an incredible exploration of two rovers' journey on Mars that is certain to dazzle on the big screen and both entertain and inform audiences about Mars.
RATING: 4 out of 5