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Red Planet Mars"Red Planet Mars" on DVD

Science Fact Classic

by Jim Bray

Space fans will probably devour DVD International's fascinating look at our planetary neighbor. The disc is chock full of things Martian, from video clips and landscape stills to 3D views that make the red planet positively pop out of the screen at you.

Upon loading the disc you're confronted with a opening menu offering you the choice of "interactive" or "entertainment" modes. Most of the fun is on the interactive side, but the other choice will give you a fascinating glimpse of part of the space program the average Joe never gets to see.

It's the launch of a Mars-bound Boeing rocket and, rather than just giving us the zillionth rocket launch we've ever seen, the producers almost immediately switch to a rocket's eye view courtesy of a video camera mounted to the side of the rocket.

The next seven minutes or so, with a short exception when the rocket boosters are jettisoned, lets you ride right into orbit! It's terrific; you rise higher and higher, through clouds and clear air, until the sky darkens and the curve of the Earth is readily apparent.

Makes one wish for a bigger TV screen on which to experience it.

After that the disc changes to various long shots of Mars from orbit, accompanied by Holst's "The Planets" on the soundtrack - as if you were aboard the orbiting craft. In all, a great Walter Mitty experience.

The interactive segment of the disc, which includes a DVD-ROM component (kind of), is full of great Mars stuff. The panoramas appear to be 360 degree sweeps (one in 3D and one in full color 2D) and one of them even pans by the little Sojourner buggy that roamed the surface a couple of years back, poking its cybernetic nose into the Martian landscape to see what dirt it could dig up.

Sounds like a Hollywood gossip columnist...

You also get lots of stills, enough to choke a horse, and they cover just about every aspect of the planet you could want.

As a member of the Planetary Society, I found the shots showing the Mars Pathfinder (later renamed the Carl Sagan Memorial Station) particularly interesting, since my name (and those of all members) was inscribed upon it via a microdot. This heady experience of having my name inscribed on another world is exciting - though I'm also grateful they didn't include my address; that way, if any aliens decide to come after me for littering another planet, they won't know where to look.

But I digress...

An interactive map section lets you choose different sections of Mars to explore courtesy of some 700 maps with zoom and panning features. A music section lets you listen to the entire (or segments of) Holst work, and an art gallery area shows the work of some well-known astronomical artists.

There's also a terrific screen saver for Windows 9x/NT - and the on-line component takes you to a MarsDVD WebSite that offers more stuff. Unfortunately, when I tried downloading the "Mars PlusPak" from the site it didn't work under either Windows NT or 98.

Web hassles notwithstanding, there's plenty to enjoy on "The Red Planet Mars" if you're a space and/or science enthusiast. It may be a bit short on plot (after all, this is a reference work, not a drama or a documentary) but it's long on nifty Martian goodies.

The Red Planet Mars, from DVD International
fullscreen, Dolby Digital


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Updated May 13, 2006