If Oppy were a human being, one would likely say ‘what an overachiever!’ So Oppy is an affectionate nickname for Opportunity, the Mars Exploration Rover built by NASA scientists. Oppy was originally expected to live for only 90 days but she ended up exploring Mars for nearly 15 years. When I first saw the poster, I thought this was a Disney-Pixar movie as the poster has striking similarities to Wall•E and the look of the rover itself reminds me of the waste-collecting robot. Well, just like Wall•E, Oppy potently tugs at my heartstrings.
I vaguely remember the news story when Oppy and her sister Spirit first landed on Mars back in 2004. I had no idea a Rover could live that long, but then again Oppy beat even the most optimistic scientists’ expectations. Documentary filmmaker Ryan White chronicles Oppy’s journey from the time she was created in the NASA labs, and the film briefly talks about the arduous process of getting approval from NASA and the meticulous design/planning/testing, etc. for the launch.
Even the fact that the rover landed safely on Mars is a tremendous feat, it was fascinating to learn how the team came up with the supersonic parachute. Then there’s the Mars exploration itself, how Oppy took hundreds of thousands of photos from the Red Planet, including a selfie! Its main mission is scientific discovery and one of Oppy’s findings is minerals typically formed in watery environments. Thus it appears that at some point there could’ve been water on Mars, maybe even life forms?
Documentary interviews can sometimes be tedious and boring, but not so with this one. I enjoy hearing from everyone who had a hand in Oppy’s journey, from the scientists, engineers, to the rover drivers. Their enthusiasm and emotional connection with the rover are palpable. It’s wonderful to see the team spirit as they bond together over this mission, and the human story is even more elevated as we see the team members share the experience with their own family members.
In addition to the interviews, the film features evocative voiceovers from Angela Bassett (how lovely to hear miss Bassett’s voice back to back as I saw Black Panther: Wakanda Forever the same week) and terrific music by Blake Neely. Speaking of music, I love Oppy’s ‘wake up songs’ which include classics from B-52s and ABBA. The re-enactments of the rover and the Mars exploration look beautiful, courtesy of ILM, natch! It really helps make the journey look cinematic, while NASA’s archival footage adds authenticity.
The movie’s most suspenseful moments are the initial Mars landing scene and the ominous dust storms. Though the solar-powered Oppy managed to ride the storms out before, the unusually severe one in 2019 proved to be fatal. After eight months of lost communication, the wake-up song was Billie Holiday’s I’ll Be Seeing You, which made my eyes watery. Just before Oppy shuts down completely, it sent a series of 354 individual pictures snapped over a 29-day period. Its final resting place is a Martian landscape known as Perseverance Valley, which happens to overlook the Endeavour Crater, approximately 28 miles from where it landed 15 years and 19 days ago.
As AMBLIN is one of its production companies, Good Night Oppy feels like one of Steven Spielberg‘s sci-fi movies, except that it actually happened. This is definitely one of the best documentaries that are not only insightful but heartfelt, inspiring, and uplifting.
Have you seen Good Night Oppy? What did you think?