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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Magnificent Desolation - Walking on the Moon
Magnificent Desolation - Walking on the Moon
HBO // Unrated // November 6, 2007
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted November 19, 2007 | E-mail the Author
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In 10 Words or Less
Feel good about the space program... for 40 minutes

Reviewer's Bias*
Loves: Astronomy, appropriate patriotism
Likes: The idea of space travel
Dislikes: Feeling infinitely minuscule
Hates: Thinking this planet might be all the life there is, impending doom

The Movie
The idea of bringing an IMAX film to home video seems like an exercise is pointlessness. Even the most impressive home theater set-up doesn't have a fraction of the size or power that an IMAX theater brings to the party (and that's not even counting the 3D aspect,) which is the whole reason you pay for that ticket and why people are willing to pay to see short films about penguins and pandas and gorillas. So to bring these audio/visual marvels to the relatively low-tech format of DVD - not even HD-DVD or Blu-Ray - just makes you wonder why they would bother.

At just 40 minutes, there's not a lot to this film, but what there is, is pretty inspirational. With Tom Hanks handling the narration, the film pulls no punches as it pulls on the heart strings, highlighting the role the space program played in the nation's self-esteem in the '60s and emphasizing just how unbelievable the idea of visiting the moon was, via impressive dramatizations of the trips. Today, the space program is viewed with a hefty amount of skepticism and disinterest, but at the time, it was like telling someone in 2007 you'll be travelling through time in a few years. The film does a nice job of capturing that spirit through archival footage and quotes from the astronauts experiencing the trip, while using the voices of today's children to express optimism in the future of space exploration (resulting in an almost embarrassing coda.)

The construction of the film is a bit overly heartfelt, treating the NASA moon missions like they were a blood transfusion to a hemophiliatic America, but there's no denying the spectacle that is the recreations of the landings and the idea that this small band of humans have touched the surface of another galactic land mass. The visuals are outstanding, with terrific lunar sets and special effects, getting most people as close to the experience of a moon walk as they ever will. If the moon looks this good in Hollywood's hands, it's forgivable that the astronauts turned into amateur philosophers when face-to-face with their incredible place in history. It's downright awe-inspiring to hear their thoughts from that time, even if they are given voice by Hollywood stars like John Travolta, Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon, among many others. I won't go into some 7-11s, no less break through the atmosphere of our planet, so no matter what one thinks about the program's recent past, these men are undeniably some of the bravest ever.

There's one place where the film lost me though (in addition to the sappy the-children-are-our-space-future ending.) In an attempt to add some drama to our red, white and blue outer space pep rally, we are shown what could have happened if the moon men didn't stick to the script and wandered off course. The segment starts brilliantly thanks to a blooper reel of astronauts tripping and falling on the moon (I would have a heart attack the second my feet left the surface, thinking I was hurtling into the cosmos) but it becomes a weak bit of a scare as two men crash their vehicle and end up nearly stranded. There's no real sense of danger, which makes it a waste of time in a film shorter than your average primetime dramas.

The DVD
A one-disc release, the DVD is packed in a standard keepcase, with an insert listing other IMAX releases. The disc has a gorgeously designed animated anamorphic widescreen main menu that offers a choice to watch the film, select scenes, adjust languages and check out the extras. Audio options include Dolby Digital 5.1 English and Dolby 2.0 Spanish and French, while subtitles are available in English, Spanish and French, along with closed captioning.

The Quality
Beautiful is the only way to describe the anamorphic widescreen transfer on this DVD. Brilliantly crisp and clean, there's nothing negative that could be said about the color or black levels, and there's not a spot of dirt or damage, nor are there any noticeable digital artifacts. It's as close to perfect as I've seen in SD DVD.

The dialogue is crystal clear and the sound effects and music are strong with this DVD. The audio is just as aggressive as the video, taking full advantage of the surround-sound set-up creating an enveloping soundfield that actively moved dialogue from the center channel to the rear speakers and everywhere else in your home theater, resulting in a you-are-there experience that makes you want to experience the true IMAX theater set-up.

The Extras
The Lunar Exploration Command Center is where the extras are found, with the bonus material split among six landing sites on the moon. Up first is a collection of six panoramic photo displays from three extra-vehicular activities from the Apollo 17 mission. These are labeled with important details and are complemented by actual audio from the moon's surface. From Apollo 16, we get animated schematics of the Saturn V rocket that lifted the astronauts into space, while Apollo 11 offers 4:30 of video from the mission.

The Lunar Roving Vehicle from Apollo 15 is displayed in a gorgeous and informative 360-degree spin-around, to go with Apollo 12's wonderfully animated photo gallery. A trivia game from Apollo 14 wraps things up, with the opportunity to see some bonus video if you get all the questions right.

The Bottom Line
Emotional and inspiring, this DVD does what it intends to perfectly, which means big fans of space exploration will get a big kick out of this DVD, but it won't be a very long one, while audio/video junkies are better served by the high-definition options available out there. The DVD couldn't look or sound much better without moving to a different format, while the extras and beautifully presented, but ultimately not all that filling. The big issue here is the length, and the fact that you don't have an IMAX theater in your house. If we could solve those problems, this would be a pretty awesome experience (and make sure to invite me over.)


Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.

Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or his convention blog called Conning Fellow


*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.

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