Mars: The Quest For Life, newly available on Blu-ray, is a 45-minute Discovery Channel documentary focusing on the Phoenix lander. The lander touched down on Mars in 2008, with the dual purpose of searching for the presence of water as well as evidence of life. While this production doesn't examine the lander's mission in comprehensive detail, it provides an interesting overview of the massive effort invested by all involved.
NASA enthusiasts are likely to be familiar with much of this information. Due to its brief running time, as the credits rolled – with voice-over narration still imparting additional facts – I had the feeling I just witnessed a teaser for a much more in-depth study. Key personnel are interviewed, such as mission leader Peter H. Smith and Heather Enos, who was involved in the failed Mars Polar Lander in 1999. In fact, Ms. Enos conveys how strongly connected, on an emotional level, she becomes with these missions. When she saw the Phoenix lift off, she couldn't help but cry as she hoped it would fare better than the earlier lost lander.
The Blu-ray format brings enhanced detail to stunning views from the surface of Mars. The panoramic vistas photographed by the Phoenix are simply incredible. The computer animation, designed to approximate what the lander looked like in space as well as on the red planet's surface, also looks fantastic on this disc. Seeing as this is a documentary, some of the footage from various locations (such as mission control) was not taped on high definition cameras and naturally isn't as impressive. But all things considered, Mars: The Quest For Life benefits from the hi-def format. The audio is presented in 2.0 stereo as well as 5.1 Dolby Digital. There isn't too much to get excited about as most of the audio is narration and interviews, but it's nice that the surround mix is included.
There are no special features of any kind to be found on this release. It's far better as a rental than as a purchase, especially considering the $21.95 list price it carries. That said, school-age space exploration buffs may find the disc has more repeat viewing value. The Phoenix lander was a spectacular success and Mars: The Quest For Life makes a case for the importance of continued exploration of that still-mysterious world. Just don't expect to walk away from it feeling like a Mars expert – the subject is worthy of a lengthier piece of work.