Journal: News & Comment

Friday, January 16, 2004
# 11:35:00 AM:


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Many have linked to this extraordinary computer-animated movie showing how the current Mars Spirit launch and landing was planned to happen (the animation is from 2002).

Only four things bother me about the otherwise-amazing film:

  • There is sound in space when there shouldn't be. Are 2001: A Space Odyssey and Apollo 13 the only movies that keep space silent, the way it really is, even though they're not even documentaries?
  • The music is a bit heavy-handed—especially when the balloon-enclosed lander is bouncing across the Martian surface, perfectly in time with "Mars: the Bringer of War," from which the viewer must infer that the bounces aren't really realistic in Martian gravity.
  • I get the impression that many other operations, such as the unfolding of the rover, are shown far, far faster than they occurred in real life. Real space missions, robotic or human, are plodding and meticulous, as they must be to avoid disaster. (For instance, today the newspaper reports that, after successfully rolling onto the sand, the rover will be tested for three days before it moves farther than one metre from the landing platform.) At least some more judicious "boring stuff deleted" crossfades would have been appropriate, I think.
  • Even though we've now seen many photos from several Martian landers showing what is, on average, a very flat landscape—at least in places where it's safe to aim landers from Earth—the simulation shows steep, dramatic mountain topography right near the landing site. The real pictures (taken with a 1 megapixel camera, by the way) show instead more distant and subtle hills, which is what we should expect by now.

All these faults show a tendency to do the unncessary: "punch up" the simulation for short attention spans. I think it would serve everyone better if these little details weren't glossed over. Part of the great power of 2001, for instance, is its use of eerie silence, and a proper sense of pace and time (including ditching the music altogether) would have improved this piece considerably. Maybe watch it with the sound off, although then the really useful sounds, from the roar of launch to the whirr of the sampling blade on the rover, get lost too.


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