A sense of wonder, camaraderie and satisfaction fills the faces of the NASA scientists as two robotic space rovers Spirit and Opportunity land on Mars. They land on opposite sides of the planet, searching for the presence of water, which would ultimately determine the possibility of life. The time period for this expedition was supposed to take no more than 90 days, but Spirit and Opportunity manage to stay much longer and provide important data for years to come. Spirit was able to do this for 6 years, while Opportunity lasted for 15 years. The human bond these two rovers create with NASA scientists is at the heart of Good Night Oppy, the new documentary streaming on Prime Video. (Read also: Capturing the Killer Nurse review: A morally depraved system is the biggest villain in this horror story)

Directed by Ryan White (Ask Dr. Ruth, The Case Against 8), Good Night Oppy is a magnanimous, enthusiastic feature film that often slips past the scientific core of the proceedings to focus on the more audience-friendly aspects of the exploration. Angela Bassett does a voiceover, even as the director gets help from animated reenactments of the two robbers to provide the small successes along the way. Meanwhile, there’s a rich character build through the interviews with the NASA scientists as they recount the unexpected and life-changing attachment to Spirit and Opportunity over the years. Chief among them are chief scientist Steve Squyres, mission manager Jennifer Trosper and chief engineer Rob Manning who provide details about the exploration from the start. We see their younger selves in the original footage of the robbers building, and it immediately reminds us of the years that have passed. What has remained constant is their enthusiasm and passion for the project.

Goodnight Oppy is a co-production of Amblin Entertainment, director Steven Spielberg’s company. It’s interesting to see Ryan White’s documentary enhanced in many ways with the same crowd-pleasing energy as Steven Spielberg’s biggest blockbusters. The early footage of the identical twin’s construction, the minor flaws, and the various tests are captivating, but Ryan focuses too often on the human investment, as the scientists longingly refer to these robots as their own children. Each of them forms an emotional bond with these machines that is more than just professional. The NASA team members even remember using a “wake up song” to share where they were emotionally during the grueling working hours.

It gets a little manipulative at times, with memories of the personal motivations of becoming a NASA scientist disrupting the film’s pacing. The reenactments of the exploration, with the rugged terrain of Mars hitting both Spirit and Opportunity, are leveled with a sense of gratitude and satisfaction rather than focusing on the science part. The comparisons to Wall-E ultimately don’t favor Good Night Oppy, as the latter lacks the boldness and sensitivity of a feature film to complement itself within the confines of a documentary.

The main problem with Good Night Oppy is how disproportionately the film slips past the science and complexities of such a revolutionary project to provide an optimistic, crowd-pleasing testament to the human spirit. The 105-minute runtime is long enough to get through this excitement, but struggles to convey the professional commitments behind the mission. Good Night Oppy is glossy and manipulative in parts, but the central idea of ​​the power of human ambition and exploration remains quietly captivating.


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