Your opportunity has arrived to take a first look at a new film about a groundbreaking journey on Mars.
Amblin Entertainment and Amazon Studios have debuted the trailer for "Good Night Oppy," director Ryan White's upcoming documentary about Opportunity, a six-wheeled NASA rover that was built to survive three months on the Red Planet but exceeded all expectations by its longevity. Narrated by Angela Bassett, the feature-length film opens in select theaters Nov. 4 and streams on Amazon Prime Video on Nov. 23.
The two-minute teaser quickly runs through the highlights of Opportunity's 15 years. From its launch from Earth to its airbag-assisted landing to its trek across Mars' Meridiani Planum, the trailer provides a glimpse of what awaits audiences when "Good Night Oppy" is released.
"Good night, Opportunity. Well done," says Bassett as the trailer comes to its end.
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As the trailer shows, "Good Night Oppy" uses NASA footage to bring viewers back to the rover's start. Scenes show Opportunity under construction and in testing at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), leading up to the robot's July 2003 liftoff on a Delta II rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
"It's one of those documentary dreams, where there's a huge closet full of tapes that people haven't looked through for years, and they say, 'Yeah, we'll give you that stuff, but we don't know what's actually on it,'" said producer Jessica Hargrave in an interview with Amazon.
"NASA is known for having incredible archival, and that's something that's always appealing to me," added Helen Kearns, who with White co-wrote the screenplay. "I knew from seeing a few frames of it that this project was going to be really fun to work on for that aspect. Getting to see these characters grow and change is pretty special."
The trailer includes a number of Opportunity's team members at work, as well as in new interviews conducted for the film.
"There were certain faces that popped up, like [principal investigator] Steve Squyres or [project system engineer and mission manager] Jennifer Trosper," said White. "We were very conscious about finding a real cross-section, equal in every way, including generationally, because Opportunity lived for 15 years. Her lifetime spanned so many generations of scientists."
White used Squyres's 2005 book, "Roving Mars," to help reconstruct the day-to-day activities of Opportunity [and its twin rover, Spirit] on the surface. The rover's mast-mounted cameras captured panoramas and close-up views all along its way, but as the trailer teases, what sets "Good Night Oppy" apart from past films is its animated scenes by Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), the visual effects company of "Star Wars" fame.
"Part of our pitch of this film was that it would be one of the first times that 'real Mars' was brought to life," said White. "Scripted films about Mars look amazing, but they're mostly shot on location in deserts. Our boon was that we had hundreds of thousands of eye-level photographs of the real Mars from the rovers, but also high-res satellite images that gave us detail about the topography. It was amazing to have all of this authentic imagery at our disposal but it was also very challenging because we wanted to stay as true to reality as we could, which meant we couldn't just throw a crater here or some mountains there."
"ILM forensically used the images and the data to transport the audience to an authentic Mars terrain, the same spaces that Opportunity and Spirit were actually going through," he said.
This was a first for White, who as a documentary filmmaker had not before made of a film reliant on so much computer-generated imagery.
"The idea that I was even having a conversation with them [ILM] about doing this, and then the passion they showed for this project, I think that's the magic of this project," he said.
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Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of collectSPACE.com, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for Space.com and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.