By Matthew Moorcroft
- Directed by Ryan White
When it comes to projects aimed solely to be mostly STEM propaganda aimed at younger audiences, you could honestly not pick a better subject to do it then the Mars rovers. Outside of being one of the more easier to understand concepts about space exploration – as they say in the film “try explaining astrophysics to an 8 year old” – it’s also an easy way for a viewer to latch onto some kind of character. We as people tend to attach ourselves to inanimate objects subconsciously, likely as a way to try to understand the world around us as it is. Even if these things aren’t “alive” per say, we still are attached to them in a way that’s hard to explain.
Good Night Oppy takes that and runs with it, offering an heartwarming, wholesome, and even emotional perspective on the Mars rovers, particularly Opportunity, the long running robot that lasted 13 years longer then initially planned. It treats it’s subject as almost a character in itself, with an arc and a personality of it’s own, and it never even says a word, instead relying on the actual noises it would have likely made had we been on Mars ourselves.
This emotional perspective ends up being the movie’s saving grace, as the actual content of the film is standard fare documentary stuff. It’s insightful for sure, and those not in the know about NASA or their programs will definitely find new information here. But the real treat is again, the robots and the relationship between it and it’s creators, who almost seem to view Oppy as their own child. While this initially comes off as a little silly, it’s very clear that it’s more then that for these scientists and engineers. And because they care, you care. It’s basic filmmaking 101 but it works for a reason, and it’s emotionally sincere about it which means it never feels corny and twee for that matter.
It helps the film is also something of a well made, oiled machine of a doc. Ryan White has been a reliable documentarian in the past and this continues that trend of being well researched and well paced to boot. The new behind the scenes footage at NASA is a highlight as well, serving to show an inner workings of a place that isn’t normally seen by the general public, though it mostly pales compared to the Mars footage. The photorealistic CGI courtesy of Industrial Light and Magic is absolutely stunning, and makes the fact this movie is getting relegated to Amazon Prime something of a shame as there is real artistry behind these segments. It’s clear that they are recreations, yes, but the way that it accurately replicates that would probably actually be like on Mars is impressive.
This parallel storytelling leads to the final moments of the film, where it’s shocking emotional gut punch of a line actually works. “My battery is low and it’s getting dark” is probably well known at this point but when you see it, you can’t help but get misty eyed after having spent 2 hours with this little robot. And then when Billie Holiday starts up, the tears begin to flow and suddenly you wonder why you are crying for a damn machine. It’s supremely effective, if a bit manipulative, but all film is inherently manipulative and if it’s as well done as this then it doesn’t matter.
Good Night Oppy certainly isn’t going to break the mold in any way, but when it comes to science docs it’s certainly solid. It will likely appeal to non-science fans the most due to it’s emotional beats, and it’s ability to give the life of a rover it’s own three act structure. Definitely worth a look-see.