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Roving Mars

(2006) ** 1/2 G
40 min. Walt Disney Pictures. Director: George Butler. Cast: Steve Squyres, Rob Manning, Dr. Charles Elachi, Paul Newman.

The latest IMAX extravaganza, Roving Mars tells a NASA success story (whew!), writ large on giant screens, with sound effects you can—at least during the launch sequence—literally feel. Working with producer Frank Marshall and geologist Steve Squyres (on whose book the film is partly based), director George Butler does a good job of conveying the odds against NASA's mission to land two intelligence-collecting rovers on the surface of Mars, or as Squyres calls it, "a spacecraft graveyard."

Anyone following science news already knows that both Spirit and Opportunity survived to send back images from the red planet, but Roving Mars isn't particularly designed for anyone who follows science news. Rather, this popular science lesson keeps it pretty simple for kids and their perhaps equally uninformed parents; Squyres never met an analogy he didn't like.

Unlike most IMAX films, Roving Mars can't provide much actual footage of the excitement it documents, but fine special effects mean you'll have to constantly remind yourself that most of you're seeing is faked footage in the form of digital animation or earth-bound recreation. But the IMAX formula provides the usual gussying: celebrity narrator (Paul Newman, who delivers the introduction), celebrity composer (Philip Glass), and large-scale images.

In full disclosure, the film begins with the message "presented as a public service by Lockheed collaboration with NASA." Translation: space propaganda brought to you by a complex funding scheme. But that's okay with me. If Roving Mars stokes a bit more interest in science and a bit more support for NASA, it'll have done it's job.

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