Even though “Good Night Oppy” takes place on an entirely different planet, composer Blake Neely made a very conscious choice to use standard orchestrations when composing the documentary’s original score. “There are some computery and metallic sounds in the score that float about here and there, but mostly I used traditional piano and orchestra because we really wanted to bring things to life,” he tells Gold Derby during our recent interview (watch the exclusive video interview above).
He had tried using electronic styles of music for the score but he found that the sound just wasn’t doing the trick, which led him to use piano even though there’s a certain trope surrounding that instrument amongst composers. “There’s sometimes a joke among composers, like, you can’t use piano in space but there’s a lot of piano in this space movie.”
“Good Night Oppy,” which is currently available to stream on Amazon Prime Video, centers on the two Mars rovers that were sent to the red planet in 2003 and would explore the planet for over a decade. The two rovers, Opportunity and Spirit, roamed around the surface of Mars trying to determine if the planet ever had water on its surface that could sustain life. The film recently was the big winner at the Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards where it won five awards including Best Documentary Feature and Best Director for Ryan White.
Neely found himself using the piano especially for the scenes where the rovers are first shown and when we see the vessels carrying them land and hatch on the surface of Mars. “I chose specifically to use piano because, to me, they’re like little kids that have been sent out there all by themselves and it just felt lonely to score them with piano.” While he used percussion to accentuate the more suspenseful parts and electronics for the Earth-bound scientists, he also had specific instruments designated for each of the individual rovers. “Opportunity gets a lot of oboe and Spirit uses a lot of brass.”
Neely has been on quite an awards run over the last couple of years. Just last month, he was part of the “Good Night Oppy” crew awarded at the Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards when he picked up the prize for Best Score. “That was incredible to win. We were in New York for that and it’s important as it’s judged by critics. Not the toughest customers but it’s really exciting just to get the recognition.” Last year he also took home an Emmy Award for composing the main title theme to HBO Max’s “The Flight Attendant.” “I think I’ve been 20 years working in television but it was such a great honor because it’s from your peers, you know, that other composers have voted for that. That felt great.”
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