SCOTTSDALE, AZ - The filmmaker who made Arnold Schwarzenegger a household name in the 1977 film "Pumping Iron" is making an IMAX documentary about NASA's dual rover mission to Mars.
George Butler previewed his project here Tuesday at Flight School 05 and PC Forum, a combined meeting of top space industry officials and entrepreneurs as well as leaders in the tech industry. Several people in the small audience expressed awe at both the mission's scope and the telling of the story in the film, titled "Mars."
The movie is not expected to come out for several months. It won't wallow in the complex science and discoveries of the rovers so much as it will glorify the journey of getting them there.
Butler is also known for producing and directing three films based on the best-selling book, "The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition."
The story of the robotic Mars mission is "as good as any adventure story ever told," Butler said. He came to the project knowing nothing about space exploration, he freely admits, and now sees the film as a way to inspire and re-invigorate the space program.
"I think this film can really influence a whole generation of high school students," Butler said.
The film treats the rover mission as a story of overcoming obstacles in order to explore an alien world. The 15-minute snippet Butler previewed starts in a clean room at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in April 2003, where engineers were preparing the rovers for launch. Then it shows tests of a landing craft's parachute billowing in a huge wind tunnel.
The video snippet was narrated by a handful of rover project scientists, including the mission's leader, Steve Squyres of Cornell University.
The dramatic launch of one of the two rovers is shown. The clip then relied on NASA animations to show a realistic view of the early moments of the flight as if viewed from several perches along the flight path. The engines fire and separate, and soon the rover drifts silently away, tucked inside its lander. Ultimately the craft makes a beach-ball bouncing landing on the red planet.
Butler told SPACE.com all the animations are being redone by his crew for the final version of the film. It will include images shot on the surface of Mars in IMAX-quality.
Butler said IMAX films can earn more than $100 million by showing in more than 300 theaters around the world.