‘If the risk you take on your life could reward you with something that no man has ever done before, the risk is worth taking’
These, or something similar, were the closing words of National Geographic’s new series, Mars, which premiered on Monday. The idea may seem noble in the context of the show, but is nothing but ironical.
Nat Geo set out to do something no infotainment channel had ever done before: making a fictional documentary. They ventured out to produce a series imagining what it would be like in the year 2033 when a few chosen astronauts will walk on the surface of Mars and colonise it for future settlements. The story is enmeshed with what seem like commercials for Elon Musk’s Space X: bytes from noted scientists and authors who champion Musk and his organisation as the one true pioneer which will lift humanity from the lowly locales of the Earth and launch us into the stars.
Sure, it was something no man had done before, but was it worth putting your millions of dollars at risk for? The answer is a definite ‘no’.
I’ll explain my disappointment in detailed steps. First, the fictional part of the series doesn’t work as a thrilling space adventure due to the frequent interruptions by the ‘real’ part of the series. Just as we start getting interested in the astronauts and the great peril to their lives, the narrative jumps to 2016 with Neil DeGrasse Tyson telling it to the camera why going to Mars would be awesome. The jumps could have been the strength of the series, had they been wrapped around the two parallels seemlessly and not like a patchwork of a sci-fi movie and a good ol’ scientific documentary.
Secondly, the sci-fi part of it is rather dull when compared to the recent slew of brilliant space adventure movies like Gravity (2013), Interstellar (2014) and The Martian (2015). Sure, it’s just been one episode of which only half the runtime was given to the fictional part, but the approach to the genre of science fiction is nothing we have never seen before. Mars even kicks off the same way as The Martian: A few astronauts trying to escape a cruel dust storm on the red planet in the night with one of them quite grievously injured. At best, the series could serve as a prequel to Ridley Scott’s Oscar nominated work.
And finally, the suspiciously over-the-top love given to Space X. The amount of attention given to specifically Elon Musk and his adventures, makes Mars look like a feature-length promotional video to his ambitious project and makes one wonder if the entire series will be packed with the same. The science of landing a manned mission on Mars, the part that would have made this series informative and entertaining, is brushed off nonchalantly. What is given importance is just the idea of exploring space, said in similar ways by different scientists and authors. Hopefully, the coming episodes will delve deeper into the details.
National Geographic Channel is treading into uncharted, unexplored territories with Mars, and just like the astronauts, the channel’s chances of emerging victorious at the end also look slim. If only the landing had been softer, the pilot been better, we would have had some hope. But no such luck!
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