Documentary Review: ‘Passage To Mars’ Is Great

In an effort to prepare for possible missions to Mars, a small expedition team traveled roughly 2000 miles through the Northwest Passage in the Arctic to get an experimental Humvee, the Okarian, to the isolated island Devon (dubbed “Mars on Earth”), which NASA has repeatedly used to test equipment. The documentary, Passage to Mars, tells the story of this 2-year journey from the journal entries of expedition leader Pascal Lee (beautifully read by Zachary Quinto) and filmed by director Jean-Christophe Jeauffre. It is a fascinating documentary that shows the indomitable human spirit defying the odds for exploration and knowledge.

The journey through the Arctic is harsh, but precedence says it is not impossible. At several points in the journey, Lee considers ending the expedition for safety reasons, not wanting to fall victim to an ego or stubbornness that will not allow reason to triumph. Tensions build amongst the team members, but not to the point that the crew cannot bring itself back together. Just shows when you have a good team, nothing is insurmountable.

I enjoyed Zachary Quinto’s voiceover reading of Lee’s journals. Even though he does not really sound like Lee, who is featured in the video and speaks on camera a few times, Quinto brings emotion and has a style that almost commands attention. I also enjoyed Lee’s writing style. An actor can only do so much if the written material is not good and I do not feel Quinto had to do much.

Throughout the film, parallels are made between Earth and Mars; which was the point of the expedition. Lee comments on how a Mars expedition team would stop repeatedly to examine the terrain, so while on this Earth-bound expedition, they also make repeated stops to examine the ice on which they are travelling. He briefly alludes to the changing climate on Earth and wonders if a similar shift happened on Mars (something I have also pondered from time to time). Though some do, it is tough to ignore what scientists have to say about our climate.

This is a great story; even better that it is a true story. This story could easily be made in different ways. It could be a big-budget blockbuster like Armageddon, with a small crew overcoming tremendous adversity and each time it looks like they are done, they come up with a new solution that helps them succeed. Or it could be a found-footage film since they do have a cameraman whose only job is to keep filming no matter what, though that subgenre might require a different outcome.

Anyway, I loved this documentary. They do not actually attempt to go to Mars, merely a first step on the long journey to getting there, so the title is a little misleading. But it showcases some pictures taken of Mars, some beautiful scenery on Earth, some thought-provoking ideas and stories, great music, and terrific footage of the expedition, along with the aforementioned voiceover from Star Trek and Heroes actor Zachary Quinto. I highly recommend it.

“Anything you dream is fiction. And anything you accomplish is science. The whole history of mankind is nothing but science fiction.”

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