For Shout! Factory's first foray into 4K UHD discs, they've really stepped up to the plate and shown the big boys how to do it. While most of the big studios make early adopters of the new format choose between getting the 4K version of a movie or the 3D, Shout! gives you both (along with the 2D Blu-ray too) with Journey to Space. This nearly 45-minute long documentary that looks at man's travels beyond his planet in the recent past as the near future comes in a striking 4K UHD disc as well as a second Blu-ray that has the film in both 3D and 2D. On top of that all of the extras are presented in 4K also. I can't think of any release by a major studio that offers all of that, and I'm really glad that Shout! is raising the bar.
This film, originally shown in IMAX theaters, this film presents some amazing eye candy from the space program including amazing stills from the Hubble Space Telescope and some impressive video of the Earth as seen from space. Yet ironically it starts by covering the end of an era; the cessation of shuttle flights by NASA. They give a nice overview of what the shuttle helped accomplish including the building of the International Space Station (ISS) and point out that the shuttles were employed much longer than anyone originally anticipated. Then the fate of those spaceships is chronicled, showing where they ended up and how difficult it was getting them to some of the museums.
The next section deals with the ISS and the work that is currently being done there, from science experiments to studying the effects of prolonged weightlessness on the human body. Apparently lots of exercise helps counter the effects and crew stationed there have to work out for at least two-hours a day.
The final section looks to the future. This part is narrated by Serena Aunon, a current NASA astronaut and one who has hopes of going to Mars one day. I found this the most interesting section. It explores the improvements that have been made in the space suits and the design of vehicle that could be used on Mars to the creation of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle that is hoped to be used to carry humans beyond low Earth orbit.
Having grown up in the 60's and having vivid memories of the Apollo launches as well as seeing man walk on the moon, I still get excited when I see documentaries like this. This one does a good job of painting an optimistic picture of the future of space travel while also discussing some of the dangers and problems. The last section where they talk about a possible Mars mission in the future will get younger viewers excited even while their jaded parents think "I'll believe it when I see it."
The real highlight of this documentary is the amazing footage and still images that are presented in beautiful 2160p (on the 4K disc only). They are quite impressive and the footage at the beginning of a shuttle launch is both visually and aurally forceful. The stills from the Hubble Space Telescope are simply amazing, and the entire film gives viewers lots to look at while telling an interesting story.
The one complaint I have, and it is a minor one, is that the film is being touted as "narrated by Patrick Stewart." That credit is on the front cover of the set, just under the title. While the Star Trek: The Next Generation star does indeed narrate some of this film, it's a rather small part. He's relegated to opening the show and then introducing the three astronauts who each present their chapter of the film. While it's not totally inaccurate, the advertising makes it seem like he plays a bigger part than he does.
The Ultra HD Disc:
As mentioned above, this combo set has it all: 4K, 3D Blu-ray, and Blu-ray on two discs (the 3D and 2D versions of the film share the same disc).
The 1.78:1 image is quite impressive across all three formats. It's not surprising that the 4K disc looks the best, but an added bonus is that Shout allows viewers the option of either HDR or SDR while watching the UDH disc. This is great for early adopters of 4K sets, as some of those do not have HDR capabilities. Luckily my set does, and I was able to see the difference HDR made, and it really does a nice job. The colors are bright and strong and the level of detail is really amazing. The space scenes are really impressive with inky, dark blacks that are filled with bright white dot of light from the stars. The many shots of the Earth from space are also achingly beautiful and well worth the price of admission.
One of the problems that the creators faced was having to put together a documentary with video in many different formats and resolutions. From footage of Apollo astronauts walking on the moon in black and white to fairly recent images from the Hubble Space Telescope that were taken at an eye-popping 10K, and everything in between, not everything was of the same image quality. The way they got around this is by putting the older, lower quality footage in a smaller frame inside the picture, and a related image in the background. This works quite well and prevents jarring differences in image quality. In the 3D version it works even better, with there being a good amount of depth between the frame and the background.
Speaking of 3D the film is a lot of fun to watch in that format. I popped the 3D disc in to spot check the quality, and ended up watching the 45-minute show in its entirety. There is a lot of pop on some of the images and though there's a noted lack of detail when compared to the 4K version, it still looks extremely good.
This documentary arrives with a Dolby Atmos (core Dolby TrueHD 7.1) soundtrack that does the job and then some. The first thing that viewers will notice is the window-rattling power of the subwoofer channel during the shuttle launch sequences, which are quite impressive. What's equally important is that the whole soundstage is utilized in the film, not only during the sonically active parts. One sequence features the image of the Orion spacecraft being built and two men can be heard from the rear speakers talking. As the conversation continues the sound approaches the front screen as they move into the shot and can be seen. It's a nice effect that works well.
There are only a couple of extras on this disc, but they are presented in 4K on the 4K disc, which is something of a rarity at this point in time. Both the 4K and 3D/2D disc contain the same bonus items: a 5-minute EPK behind the scenes piece (which is interesting but too brief) and an image gallery reel that runs a minute and a half.
Shout! Factory knocked it out of the park with their first 4K disc. Kudos for including three formats (4K, 3D Blu-ray, and 2D Blu-ray) in this set as well featuring all of the extras in both 4K and 1080p. While the documentary is interesting for fans of space exploration, the video quality is excellent and the images are spectacular. It gets a very strong recommendation.