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Space Station (IMAX)

Space Station (IMAX)
Warner DVD
2002 / Color / 1:37 flat full frame / 48 min. / Street Date July 19, 2005 / 19.98
Narrated by Tom Cruise
Cinematography James Neihouse
Original Music Micky Erbe, Maribeth Solomon
Written, Produced, Directed and Edited by Toni Myers

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

This film was the big IMAX thrill in 2002 and was originally presented and billed as Space Station 3D. Like all IMAX films, it's basically a documentary offshoot of the old travelogue format, taking the audience places they've never been and showing them things they might not otherwise see. That description certainly applies in this case, as a couple of dozen NASA astronauts manned Imax's 3D cameras to film these simply amazing shots of life in orbit on the International Space Station.

Because the disc presentation is neither in 3D nor four stories tall, the DVD is naturally going to pale beside the IMAX experience. Even without the giant 70mm images or the depth illusion, it shapes up as a good documentary about one of mankind's most honorable activities, the exploration of space.

To make the film, IMAX's cameras went up on scores of shuttle missions, all of which presumably preceded the 2002 re-entry disaster. Viewers hungry for fabulous shots in orbit may be initially put off by a lengthy CGI sequence which turns out to be imagery from a complex virtual reality training simulator. But soon we're treated to several diaphragm-rumbling rocket launches that hurl mountains of steam and smoke into our faces. One Soyuz craft disappears into dense fog only a couple of hundred feet off the ground. The angles are few but telling: one nice matching view out the port of a space shuttle shows Florida dropping away as the smoke still billows around the launching pad.

We've all seen images of astronauts in space but Space Station concentrates on the construction of the international space lab, a model of political cooperation and scientific collaboration. Pieces of the lab designed and built in Russia, the US, Italy and Japan are boosted into orbit and assembled, sometimes using a robot construction arm that proudly reads 'Canada.' Tom Cruise's able narration stresses the international aspect of the project, a theme reinforced by one of many clichéd but true astronaut dialogue lines: "When one looks down on the Earth there are no arbitrary borders between countries."

The disc itself doesn't follow through with that sentiment. Sponsor Lockheed Martin has its logo and footprint everywhere. The actual film credits Astronauts and Cosmonauts as the filmers but the DVD package cover eliminates mention of our Russian friends. The official reason is just for brevity, but I can't help thinking that marketers are afraid that gen-you-wine Americans might not buy a product associated in any way with Russia. Like too much of space-oriented politics, we're too proud to acknowledge that Americans need anyone's help. That's pretty insulting considering that we've had to rely on Russian rocketry to get into space for the last three years.

The film itself spends several minutes at Star City in Kazakhstan and quite sensibly shows local details such as a walkway lined with trees planted in honor of famous Cosmonauts. We hear sound bites from Italian and Japanese spacemen, and all nationalities on the station work and play as a harmonious team. In this day and age, that realization alone should elicit idealistic tears.

We cruise the interior of the incredibly efficient station sections, where every square inch harbors another modular experiment assembly or special storage container, all of which are designed to just barely fit through the station's linking doorways. Bulky items weighing hundreds of pounds are easily maneuvered in the weightless environment. The space men and women undergo constant exercise to keep their muscles in tone, and we see them doing things like shaving and getting their hair cut. Anyone seeking a good night's sleep has to be envious of shots that peek in on dozing spacemen. They look like weightless mummies wrapped in sleeping cocoons and tucked into cubby holes in the floor or ceiling, like rabbits in a warren.

The shooting also contains a requisite number of staged bits where the various fliers clown about, tossing food, 'drinking' water globules out of the air and pulling space-safe pranks. The women need to tie down long hair to keep it from floating about; one female space scientist tosses an orange at the camera, a gag that in 3D must have made everyone jump.

Exterior views of the station are dazzling but not as picturesque as those seen in space fantasies. The Earth is so bright that no stars are visible to the IMAX cameras, and many shots look like stills until one perceives the rotation of the planet below.

Even without the IMAX and 3D, Space Station is a fascinating look at real space technology of the kind that news programs seem to think is too boring to feature. I can't think of a better way to spend part of the nation's riches, and wish that the government promotional apparatus was selling space instead of war. The first space shuttle since the 2002 disaster is only now about to be launched, and plenty of pundits are acting as if the space program should be shut down. The programs need to continue as long as men and women are willing to take the risks. We need outlets for our dreams better than killing and hatred.

Warner's DVD of Space Station looks fine in this standard-aspect disc that roughly matches the IMAX screen shape. The images are all deep-focus and brilliant, as is to be expected. The 5.1 audio mixes new score, some oldies heard as source music and sound effects carefully chosen for authenticity. A rocket launch, for instance, is accompanied by an ear-splitting crackle indicating that the recording microphone's range has bottomed out.

A featurette Adventures in Space allows various Lockheed Martin spokesmen to laud the filming project, while a Two Astronaut-Guided Audiovisual Space Station Tour is an outer-space home video that goes into detail on life in orbit (Stanley Kubrick fans will be looking for the Zero-Gravity Toilet!). There is also a stills gallery documenting two shuttle and space station missions.

Total filmmaker Toni Myers (writer, director, producer, editor) shares an all-female commentary track with astronaut Marsha Ivins. It goes one level deeper, providing backgrounds for individual shots and explaining some of the circumstances of filming.

There is an additional French language track and subs suitable for New York, Paris and Madrid.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Space Station rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Two featurettes, still section. Commentary by director and astronaut.
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: July 18, 2005

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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