Review: 'Good Night Oppy' is an Uplifting Doc About NASA's Ingenuity
by Alex Billington
September 29, 2022
The magic of NASA has faded in recent years, no longer the awe-inspiring, astounding, dream-big place that it used to be during the iconic Apollo missions and the Space Shuttle era. But perhaps we're just not seeing inside the walls of NASA anymore, maybe we're just not hearing the stories like we used to? Good Night Oppy is an extraordinary documentary that sets this straight, and puts everything back on course, remind us once again that NASA is still the dream-big, make-it-happen, monumental place that it has always been. Going into this film, I had no idea what I was about to watch. It's about the clunky robot rovers they sent to Mars in 2003. Is that it? Is it just some abstract footage of them on that planet, driving around in Martian silence? Oh yes - it's that and SO much more. This documentary film left me in awe. I was so moved by it, so inspired & invigorated, that I watched it twice within a few days. No notes – this film is pretty much perfect.
This is the most inspirational movie about space travel and space exploration that I have seen in years. Directed by Ryan White, and produced by Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment, Amazon Studios, Film 45, and Tripod Media, in association with Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), Good Night Oppy is a mesmerizing look at the "Mars Exploration Rover" missions of 2003 - sending the robots dubbed "Spirit" and "Opportunity" to Mars. ILM is involved because half of the film is CGI footage of the two rovers exploring Mars. Not only is it photo-realistic rendering, but it's accurate in every possible sense - the rocks and formations and dust has been rendered precisely in perfect detail. The other half of the film is even better - it tells the story about the many people involved in this project. Various engineers, mission directors, robot drivers, passionate interns, researchers, designers, and "science people" are interviewed - talking about their time working on this, their memories, and how remarkable this whole mission was. It was a dream project envisioned by a geologist who wanted to study the rocks on Mars himself, so they sent a science robot (or two) over to this red planet.
The reason that Good Night Oppy is so extremely watchable is because it's such an entrancing, cinematic documentary that beautifully dips into so many wholesome stories of all the people who worked on making something extraordinary happen. This film flies, man oh man, just like the two rovers jetting over on rockets to Mars (at 24,600 mph). As soon as it starts, you're sucked in, and it moves from one moment to the next so smoothly. The editing is some of the best documentary editing I've encountered this year (edited by Rejh Cabrera & Helen Kearns), never wasting time with boring cutaways or interviews that go too long. It's an emotional and inspiring look inside NASA that proves they're still doing amazing things and right in the middle of the story - oh right, here are some of the people doing all these amazing things. I was enjoying the story of the rovers, but it gets even better when these people tell their own stories of how they got into NASA and why they're so in love with space exploration. NASA is also beautifully, naturally diverse - these people come from all different walks of life all over the world & they all have one thing in common: they love space.
I'm so glad I had a chance to watch this before even knowing what it was really about. As soon as it was over, my first thought was - I could watch this again right now. So I did (a few days later) and it was as inspiring and moving as the first time around. Such a breath of fresh air to watch this and oh yes, HERE is a superb documentary that just flows - like the water on Mars used to many years ago. I will be recommending this to everyone - anyone can watch it and anyone can be inspired by this story. It may even change some lives if the right person watches it at the right age. It is a rejuvenating reminder humans are still doing incredible things at NASA, even if we always don't know it, they're working hard to make the next amazing discovery. We should all take this passion to heart, and recognize that we can achieve anything we want - no matter how impossible it seems. The right minds, with the right attitude, can take us farther than we've ever been.