Good Night Oppy (Review) – Get Your NASA To Mars

DIRECTOR: Ryan White

CAST: Angela Bassett

RUNNING TIME: 105 mins

CERTIFICATE: U

BASICALLY…: A NASA interplanetary rover manages to survive on Mars for fifteen years…

 

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

Well before WALL-E beeped and rolled into people’s hearts, NASA invented its own vehicular robot with a personality of sorts to call its own. In fact, they did such a good job with manufacturing it that, against all odds, it lasted far longer than anyone could have predicted – on an entirely different planet, no less – and its amazing life now forms the basis of Amazon’s new documentary Good Night Oppy, a charming and at times playful feature that, much like Pixar’s acclaimed feature, will make you want to follow this robot all the way to the other side of the universe (literally so).

The film, by director Ryan White, takes the viewer on a brisk journey through the life and times of Opportunity, one of two NASA interplanetary vehicles being developed to be transported to Mars and transmit back data about the planet’s resources, as part of the organisation’s mission to discover if there were any signs of life. Opportunity, and its sister rover Spirit, manage to successfully land on Mars, where both are expected to only last ninety “sols” (basically, a day on Mars time) as they carry out their mission – but to the astonishment of everyone at NASA, from the scientists and engineers that developed the rovers, to the numerous employees who came and went during their operation, both of them last much longer than anticipated, with Opportunity in particular carrying on for a good fifteen years after landing.

In true documentarian fashion, Good Night Oppy is told through a mixture of on-camera interviews with NASA personnel that oversaw the rovers’ extended mission, with archive footage showing their reactions to all the astonishing developments that Opportunity made on Mars. The film then goes a bit further by regularly showing dramatized CG-animated interludes of Opportunity itself roaming across the desolate red planet, with Angela Bassett occasionally chiming in to read aloud some of the many journal entries made about its progress. It is these sections which are undoubtedly going to lead to numerous WALL-E comparisons (and probably The Martian, too), but in fairness the film does a good job of making you really root for this robot, who during these interludes is, in its own way, made to feel like an actual character that is likeable and three-dimensional, while also at times rather funny but also tragic much later on. You really get why the people being interviewed here often get emotional when talking about Opportunity, because the way in which White structures the film makes it feel like you’re watching a quirky family drama with multiple parents expressing love and pride for its robotic offspring, and it gives off a nice warm feeling that you can’t help but get wrapped up in. Also, with the choices of light-hearted songs used for the rovers’ daily wake-up calls – among them are tracks by ABBA, The Beatles, Steppenwolf and The B-52s – it’s one that you’ll find it hard not to tap you feet to.

It’s also a film that cleverly makes itself accessible to just about anyone of any age (it’d have to, with its U certificate). While adults can certainly get invested in the film’s emotional stakes, children may not only find themselves amused by the cute robot antics during the CG cartoon segments, but as a launchpad for general interest in a fascinating and resourceful organisation like NASA, it’s also a pretty decent introduction for that younger audience. Some interviewees in the film detail their own childhood interests in space exploration and general engineering, which for similarly-minded kids might be all they need to further explore their fascinations and learn for themselves what makes a suitable NASA candidate. It wouldn’t be surprising if schools even started showing this film in some science classes for that very reason, as there is enough good material for the impressionable young mind to gather inspiration for their own promising future careers.

The film is very charming, and engaging enough to work as both a fascinating documentary about a surprisingly functional piece of technical engineering, and as an emotional family movie about the life of an adorable robot millions of miles away from Earth. Sometimes, though, it can feel a bit too light with its substance, as it tends to skip over a number of personal failures at NASA that arguably would have made it a more complex story to experience. Furthermore, for all of its good intentions, the final five or so minutes of the film threaten to descend a bit too far into full-on NASA propaganda, almost becoming a slightly cheesy advertisement for the corporation rather than a truly impactful ending.

However, it’s a film that manages to work well enough to overcome its bumpier surfaces, and you are left mostly satisfied with how much Good Night Oppy wins you over with its upbeat and even inspirational storytelling. Sure, it may sometimes seem like they just wanted to make a live-action WALL-E, but just like in that movie you’re bound to fall in love with this robot, bolts and all.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Good Night Oppy is a charmingly told documentary about the fascinating extended life cycle of the NASA interplanetary vehicle Opportunity, which offers plenty of likeable moments and anecdotes that make you really root for this scrappy robot, and for its younger audience there is potential for it to serve as a useful launching pad for their own potential careers in space exploration and engineering.

Good Night Oppy is now available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.

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