VOD film review: Good Night Oppy
James R | On 06, Jan 2023
It’s been almost 20 years since Opportunity touched down on Mars to carry out an observational mission on Earth’s red neighbour. What was meant to be a 90-day voyage, though, didn’t go as planned: the Mars Exploration Rover completed that 90-day journey, and then continued to explore Mars for 15 years. The team behind the rover called her Oppy.
Humans have always been a curious species, gazing up at the stars in wonder. In the 1970s, that led to the Viking missions that produced photos of Mars. Oppy and her twin sister, Spirit, went one step further and got human eyes down on the ground that were able to move around. Good Night Oppy charts that mission in absorbing detail, with a heart that matches the team’s head for science.
The film is directed by Ryan White, who previously helmed The Case Against 8, and his knack for finding personal stories behind big-picture ideas is once again on full display. Rather than simply exactly the technical achievements, and astronomical significance of Oppy, White takes the time to get to know the people working in NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in detail. We feel their excitment as they recall their enthusiasm all those years ago, as they relive their nervous watching of the rover’s first steps.
That emotional investment continues through the rest of Oppy’s mission, which is captured through a superb array of archival footage – and accompanied by anecdotes about how they started each day with a wake-up song, how they took bets on how long the rovers would last, and how they came to feel about Oppy’s journey the same way that a parent feels about watching a child grow up. Narrated with warmth by Angela Bassett, the result recalls WALL-E in its ability to make humanising a machine seem like the smallest, most natural step for mankind.