'Sky Line': DOC NYC Review

Courtesy of Space Elevator
This rambling, unfocused doc will be best appreciated by science nerds.

Miguel Drake-McLaughlin and Jonny Leahan's documentary chronicles the scientific quest to build a "space elevator."

Science geeks will find much to appreciate in Miguel Drake-McLaughlin and Jonny Leahan's documentary about the quixotic quest to create a space elevator. But if you've never even heard of the concept, popularized in Arthur C. Clarke's 1979 novel Fountains of Paradise, then Sky Line, which recently received its world premiere at the DOC NYC festival, might not be the film for you.

In the press notes, the directors say that they "cobbled together" the film, and it's a telling admission. Chronicling the attempts by scientists and entrepreneurs over many years to make the outlandish concept a reality, Sky Line has a decidedly rambling, inaccessible feel.

Still, the film presents an intriguing tale of scientific ambition. The concept dates back to the 19th century, when a Russian scientist, inspired by the Eiffel Tower, envisioned a similarly constructed tower that would reach all the way up to space.

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Cut to eight decades later when NASA scientist Jerome Pearson, himself inspired by a talk given to Congress by visionary science-fiction writer Clarke (2001: A Space Odyssey), proposed the idea of a cable that would be connected to a satellite, thereby eliminating the need for rockets to put humans and materials into orbit. Pearson published his theory in the scientific journal Acta Austronautica, but it wasn't until Clarke exploited the concept in his novel four years later that the idea took hold in the public's imagination.

The film profiles several figures involved in the quest, including Dr. Bradley Edwards, a scientist working with NASA on inventing the structure which would require a material so strong that it doesn't yet exist; Michael Laine, the founder of a company called Liftport that is dedicated to the construction of a space elevator and who proclaims that its mission is "unleashing humanity from the tyranny of gravity"; and Ben Shelef, the co-founder of the Spaceward Foundation, an organization dedicated to promoting the advancement of the technology necessary to realizing the space elevator.

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Using film and audio recordings of both Clarke and Isaac Asimov, another famed science-fiction writer whose ideas have come to fruition, Sky Line explores its topic with admirable enthusiasm if sometimes less than narrative coherence. It also becomes depressingly clear, despite the film's air of hopefulness that, in the current economic and political climate, there's little evidence that the space elevator will ever become reality, at least not in our lifetimes.

Production: Going Up! Films

Directors/producers: Miguel Drake-McLaughlin, Jonny Leahan

Executive producer: Robert Wood

Director of photography: Miguel Drake-McLaughlin

Editor: Chris Guido

Composer: Jesse Galaznik

Not rated, 74 minutes

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