Ever since I was a child I’ve been fascinated by the cosmos, the mysteries of the universe, and our place in it here on Earth.
To be honest, I’m still sad I couldn’t go to Space Camp.
But, time has passed, and I haven’t read any books about space in years, nor do I go to the movies very often, the recent Star Trek and Star Wars movies being among a few isolated exceptions. I have a big TV, surround sound, and a comfy couch; why bother looking up?
Then, I saw A Beautiful Planet in IMAX 3D this weekend, and that childhood fascination came rushing back.
Filmed by astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) and narrated by Jennifer Lawrence, the documentary film is part unbelievably spectacular visual experience, part not-so-gentle warning that humankind should be a bit nicer to the planet we call home. From the ISS, filmed with Canon cameras in IMAX, we get to see the Earth from a vantage point never before seen or experienced, unless you’re an astronaut. I was physically and emotionally moved when I saw the Aurora Borealis, to the point I started planning a trip to go see them mid-movie. I was similarly affected when the film showed the devastation of the Brazilian rainforests, evident by the lack of greenery but, more shockingly, by the dozens of smoke plumes from intentional deforestation. The film also shows very clearly how, for example, California’s water supply is dangerously low, and reminds us that it is largely our own doing. I wouldn’t call myself an environmentalist by any means, but the visuals and script present a very stark reminder — by comparing Earth to the barren, uninhabitable surface of Mars — that we can’t expect the planet to adapt to us; we must adapt our ways to the planet, or else…
We’re also given a glimpse into astronauts’ lives aboard the ISS — how they eat, sleep, wash, exercise, and go about their daily lives. We see how hard it is to squeeze into and out of a space suit before venturing outside the station for a spacewalk, a scene I’d imagine Will Ferrell or Kevin James would master in the comic adaptation.
Did I mention the spectacular visuals? Because they’re really, really spectacular!
One scene in particular really captured the aura of the film for me. An Earth-facing camera pans up where you feel, physically, like you’re on the space station, picking your head up to glance over at the horizon. To a jaded theater-goer like me, this was nothing short of extraordinary. Given its vantage point, the views from the ISS are just beyond amazing, but to see — no, to experience them — in IMAX 3D is as close as most of us will get to actually being there high above the Earth, at least until Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin achieve their commercial space flight aspirations.
I’m not a professional film critic, but A Beautiful Planet gets five stars in my book. It’s an amazing experience with gorgeous visuals, telling an important story with a well-developed script and terrific narration.