Good Night Oppy movie review & film summary (2022)

Another surprise was how much emotion the humans invested in them. Spirit and Opportunity are anthropomorphized by the NASA team (and the filmmakers) in the manner of lovable cartoon characters or “Star Wars” androids. The routines and rituals associated with Spirit and Opportunity (Oppy for short) contributed to the sense that these long-necked metal things roving the ochre surface of Mars had personalities and could feel pain. Anthropomorphizing—the process of investing non-human things with human traits—is the real subject of this movie, and the focus of most of its drama. 

The bulk of the running time consists of news, documentary, and home movie footage taken during the mission, plus interviews with key members of the team, but White and company got a mighty assist from expensive state-of-the-art computer effects, which re-create the Mars mission in a style that recalls “Wall-E,” “The Martian,” and other science-fiction epics. Whenever there’s a cut to a closeup of the camera unit atop a rover’s neck, we can’t help thinking of it as a face. When one of them struggles to get out of a sandy sinkhole or change course despite a busted wheel, we root for them, just as we might root for Mustafa, Black Beauty, Lassie, R2-D2, or any other movie character who becomes an honorary person by having the audience’s emotions poured into them. 

The interviewees describe what they were thinking and feeling as they tried to figure out how to get the robots from one place to another, maneuver them out of sand traps, and figure out workarounds for equipment failures and geographical impediments. The story’s timespan is so compressed that occasionally seems to channel Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar,” a film about the relativity of time and memory. When the NASA team pauses one of the machines’ journeys to test out solutions on a replica in the facility, the actual process might’ve taken months, but gets compacted into a couple of minutes’ worth of screen time. 

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