Pretty much a scam from start to finish, the new Disney IMAX film “Roving Mars” is less a film and more a very expensive grant proposal from NASA and Lockheed Martin (who have presented the film “as a public service,” according to the opening credits) to convince people to give them more money.Although the publicity suggests that the film will show giant-screen footage of Mars captured by the two Mars Exploration Rovers–elaborate high-tech dune buggies designed to travel the surface of the planet in order to collect and transmit geological data that will hopefully reveal the history of the planet. Some of these early scenes showing how the complex machines are put together are intermittently interesting (especially if you have a keen interest in robotics) and there is one shot of a parachute test in a wind tunnel that is pretty cool to look at. However, the grim reality is that so much time is devoted to the development of the rovers (including numerous jumbo-sized images of computer jockeys and bald spots ) that the 40-minute film is more than half over before they are even launched into space.
When the robots are sent off to Mars, we are treated to a CGI simulation of their voyage and landing on the planet’s surface. This is to be expected–there were, after all, no cameras there to capture the actual images of their arrival. However, the simulations continue and it turns out that there is only a minute or two of actual footage of the surface of the red planet--most of that is seen only in still images. The remainder of the film consists of CGI effects showing what the rover might look like while riding along the surface of the planet using the actual photos as a sort of guide. The effects are well-done, I suppose, but that doesn’t take away from the simple fact that the movie is implicitly promising viewers one thing–a genuine IMAX-eye view of Mars–and giving us something entirely different instead. Perhaps a more accurate title for the film might have been “Roving Mars-Mania-Not Mars But An Incredible Simulation!”Considering what it promises compared to what it actually delivers (especially when you factor in the inflated IMAX prices), even the most indulgent fan of space exploration is likely to walk away from “Roving Mars” feeling slightly ripped-off.