By Amy Dunning
Directed by Jean-Christophe Jeauffre
European Film Market review
Visually breathtaking, Jean-Christophe Jeauffre’s documentary is the tale of the Mars Institute and the NASA expedition to the Arctic. Six men armed with a Mars rover try a never-before attempted journey across the Arctic Northwest Passage in order to prepare for future human missions to Mars. Narrated by Zachary Quinto, the documentary follows the diary entries written by the crew as they travel through the snow and ice. Quinto conveys the awe and wonderment the Arctic inspires in the men, but also the threat of the unknown and the power of nature. This documentary brings to life the lonely two week expedition. As the crew are forced into dangerous situations they question what it means to be human, and how far they are willing to go for the sake of knowledge.
Attempting to replicate what the first Martian mission may be like; the crew face similar challenges as they navigate through the barren ice-lands of the Arctic. With minimal support from their team back at base, the crew have to use the supplies that they have to maintain both themselves and the rover – on Mars they will have no backup supplies if a machine malfunctions. The Arctic is a barren, lifeless world, frozen in time, not dissimilar to Mars. At the mercy of the elements, they need to be proactive and able to mend any damages that occur to the rover, as well as avoiding driving over thin ice.
The vivid expedition diary extracts offer glimmers into the minds of men pushed to their limits. Harrowing at moments; Quinto’s narration adds a depth of complexity which is simultaneously melodramatic and insightful. His tone is peaceful, reflecting the calm of the Arctic ice world. In the desolate desert the crew’s thoughts turn towards themselves, and the great lengths that man will go to in the quest for knowledge. At times, the documentary takes on an existential quality, with the narration treating the expedition as if they were already on Mars. The blurring of reality with aspiration complicates the narrative of the story, offering a tale that could be a prequel to a later exploration of the red planet.
Yet, this is an optimistic film which symbolises what humanity can achieve when it works together. Men of different backgrounds and skills, are forced to live inside the small rover as they travel across thin ice. Their collaboration is a testament to a shared passion for space and knowledge. Passage to Mars is about the true nature of humankind, and that despite the daunting journey across the ice, their spirit of adventure keeps them motivated. Beautiful long-range shots of the ice and snow highlight the overwhelming loneliness of the intrepid explorers. This documentary successfully draws attention to the power of nature – an isolated crew amongst the wilderness. The cinematography of the film makes it a worthwhile watch in and of itself. But moreover, this piece of film does more than just chart the journey across the Northwest Passage, it provides hope for the future of humanity. Even the most daring dreams can come true.
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