Thursday, August 9, 2012

Blu-ray 3D Review: Mars in 3D: Images from the Viking Mission

With all the buzz over Curiosity and its 3D images from the Martian surface, I found Mars in 3D: Images from the Viking Mission, produced by Elliott Levinthal of Stanford University (who passed away earlier this year), to be a great look into the first US mission to the red planet. Not only did we get 3D images from those Viking probes, but this half-hour documentary from 1978 presents these images and gives context to both the process of capturing them and their historical significance. Check out our video review of the Blu-ray 3D release:

As other reviews have noted, the 3D is extreme in parts. The stills of the Martian surface are presented with excessive negative parallax and no floating windows. Some were taken from orbit using images from multiple orbits, resulting in different shadows in the left/right images. The narrator takes the time to explain that the images were taken by two cameras 0.8 meters across and walks the audience through how to try and fuse the hyperstereo images. This is one of the few releases where I will say "bad 3D" is acceptable, because it preserves these historic images as they were originally shot, and undoubtedly influenced how 3D images were captured on later Mars missions. The footage of the narrator is presented in 2D, and footage of the Viking probe model in action are presented in 3D that is much easier on the eyes.

If it wasn't for the restoration efforts spearheaded by CCRMA and for AIX Records releasing this, Mars in 3D could very well have faded into history like so many other lost 3D films. The restoration from the original film print was impressive for an independent release, with few signs of dust and scratches, and no signs of jitter. In the 40-minute interview special feature, Michael McNabb explains the process by which they restored the left and right 16mm prints. The superb 5.1 mix was prepared from the original computer music. The film owes a lot to its soundtrack, whose ethereal and ominous tones emphasize the awe and suspense of being immersed in the landscape of an alien world. Without it, this would be a rather dull series of rocky photos.

The special features include:
Interview with John Chowning and Michael McNabb: a dry but enlightening 2D 40-minute interview about the history and restoration of Mars in 3D. The two are joined by Uri Geva, the Film Advisor and Editor, and William Schottstaedt, one of the composers.
About the Project: on-screen text providing historical context to the project
Mars Suite by Michael McNabb: an option to play just this composition
Mars Music by William Schottstaedt: an option to play just this composition

Overall I would recommend this if you liked Space Station 3D, and for any fan of space documentaries, space history, and the history of stereoscopic cinema. While the film is dry, I found it to be much more informative than most IMAX documentaries.

This can be purchased through AIX Records' website for $19.98. The entire film is also freely available on YouTube (minus the 5.1 sound and high quality MVC encode of the Blu-ray).

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