Ryan White’s newest documentary, Good Night Oppy, follows the twin Mars rovers during what was supposed to be a 90-day mission.
There’s a story that Jews love to tell each year about the miracle of Chanukah oil. There was enough to last for one night but it miraculously lasted for eight nights. Cut to many centuries later and Good Night Oppy is telling a similar story, only it’s a fight against age and nature. A pair of rovers, Opportunity and Spirit, were launched into space for what was supposed to be a 90-day mission. Against all odds, Spirit lasted for five years and Opportunity for 15 years. The film recreates their journeys while also focusing on the bond between the Mars rovers and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientists and engineers on Earth.
Launched in summer 2003, both Mars Exploration Rover landed at the start of 2004. The research going back to Earth over the course of the mission is simply invaluable. There’s so much to benefit from their longer-than-expected mission. We’ve always known that Mars was similar to Earth but now we know that it was once a planet with water. All one has to do is just sit back and take it all in. Oppy’s legacy lives on today by way of another rover, Perseverance, launched in summer of 2020.
The film is groundbreaking in how it approaches its subject. They weave in the interviews and archival footage from the thousands of hours available but it is the photo-real visual effects and the incredible sound design that will blow audiences away. Blake Neely’s score and Oscar-winning sound editor Mark Mangini’s work in this film is suited for a big-screen experience. It’s one of the most impressive things about the film in terms of the technical achievements. I’m sure it will sound fine on TV but I recommend watching on the big screen if the opportunity presents itself. I’m glad that I had the chance to see it on the big screen. As great as my 43″ inch 4K TV can be, nothing can take away from the big screen experience. A film like Good Night Oppy is why we go to the movies.
In terms of VFX, this documentary would have been impossible to make in the early 1990s because the VFX wasn’t there yet. Thanks to the efforts of Industrial Light & Magic, we follow both Oppy and Spirit‘s missions on Mars through photo-realism. If I didn’t know any better, I would have been like, how were they able to film on Mars?!? What makes this film even more impressive, in terms of the scale, is that production started during the pandemic. Try making this film when people are working from home!
White, producer Jessica Hargrave, editors Helen Kearns and Rejh Cabrera put a lot of work into this film. It’s never easy to weave through thousands of hour of archival footage. The end result, however, is a sentimental project that shows the impact that Oppy had on people. Kids grew up wanting to work with NASA because of the rovers and you can’t help but cry when they tell their stories–Abigail Fraeman, Bekah Sosland-Siegfriedt, and Moogega Cooper are such examples. It’s this personal connection between rover and humans that helps make this such a beautiful film. The team might change through the years but you feel for them when you know that Oppy isn’t going to survive for much longer. Personally speaking, I love the choices for the songs that get incorporated into the film’s soundtrack. I was rocking out to them during the international premiere!
Amblin Entertainment is one of the companies behind the film. Honestly, this film is perfect for Amblin because one really feels like they’re watching a film similar in tone to E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. You have a documentary here that is just absolutely perfect for the brand. When we think of Amblin movies, we think of those films with wonder and adventure. I’m thinking back to my childhood and watching the Steven Spielberg-directed films or the films produced by Amblin in general. Amblin movies are generally the type that people can watch with their families and that’s the great thing about watching this film. Both adults and children will certainly find something to appreciate about the film. To have a film with Amblin and ILM involved is the dream!
Good Night Oppy isn’t only an inspirational and uplifting movie but it is one of the best documentaries of the year. Plus, who doesn’t love a good space movie?!?
DIRECTOR: Ryan White
SCREENWRITERS: Helen Kearns & Ryan White
NARRATOR: Angela Bassett
Good Night Oppy holds its international premiere during the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival in the Special Presentations program. Amazon Studios will release the film in select theaters on November 4, 2022 and Prime Video on November 23, 2022. Grade: 5/5
Please subscribe to Solzy at the Movies on Substack.