The wave of remarkable new television continues – unexpectedly – with Nat Geo’s 6 part miniseries “Mars.” The series, which also runs on FX, tells the story of our first manned mission to Mars in 2033.
The fact that the series sidesteps the usual hokeyness of the future sci-fi genre is already impressive, but what really breaks new ground is the WAY these filmmakers did it. Blending fact with fiction is never an easy trick. FORREST GUMP pulled it off (mixing archival footage with live action) and there have been others less successful. But MARS blends present day NASA & Space-X documentary footage with live action sequences so seamless and convincingly – it’s almost like a new form of television.
One minute we are watching Elon Musk lay out the mission and risk factors of his Mars mission (circa 2016) and the next we are watching those risks realized with terrifying consequence, seventeen years later. And it works!
Created by documentary filmmakers Ben Young Mason & Justin Wilkes, with what looks like considerable help from Hollywood uber producers Ron Howard & Brian Grazer (Imagine Entertainment) the series achieves a level of credibility and high emotional stakes that the purely fictional worlds of “The Martian” or “Apollo 13” could never manage.
How you ask? By freely intercutting the two timelines (2016) and (2033), we get very real, very recognizable people from the NASA community building the emotional stakes for the fictional crew. I know. Doesn’t sound like it should work, but it does. There’s a real life sequence between astronaut Michael Kelly (the first man to spend a year in orbit) connecting with his teenage daughter via Skype. And the kid is amazing. The footage is 100% authentic. 100% loaded with emotion and longing and loss. It sets the stage perfectly for the fictional Hanna and Joon Seung, twin sisters of the 2033 mission – one of whom leaves almost certainly to die. Or so it seems.
Thus far, only two of the six episodes have been made available, but if they are able to sustain this mix of old and new, authentic and fictional filmmaking – it will be a real first. And a testament to the ongoing adventure, not just of man chasing stars, but of storytellers chasing a whole new road of exploration.