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A timely companion piece to box-office champ The Martian, Mark Krenzien’s inspirational capsule history of recent space travel could easily serve as a recruitment tool for future missions. Looking back fondly at the U.S. shuttle program, and ahead to red-planet exploration, the film celebrates rocket science as an expression of basic human curiosity, not to mention ingenuity.
In part because it lacks the sustained sensory immersion that makes many nature-themed Imax films transporting, Journey to Space 3D never quite achieves liftoff. Still, its info and images offer plenty to wow family audiences, budding scientists especially. (For a multimedia educational experience, the film is paired with a hands-on exhibit at the California Science Center in Los Angeles.)
Combining well-chosen archival footage with new material shot by Sean MacLeod Phillips, Krenzien effectively uses the giant screen to convey the power and intensity of NASA launch pads and space crafts. Glimpses of Hubble telescope imagery fill the screen with abstract beauty, but mainly the skyward-gazing film keeps its feet firmly on the ground, even as Patrick Stewart — aka Star Trek’s Captain Picard — intones the grandiose voiceover narration. While the verbiage insists on the glory and importance of ventures beyond Earth, the film is most intriguing when it examines the nuts-and-bolts challenges of space travel.
Offering more prosaic commentary than Stewart are three NASA employees who serve as onscreen guides. Former shuttle astronaut Chris Ferguson is the emblematic bridge between missions past and present. He gazes nostalgically at the Atlantis, now on display at the Kennedy Space Center, and visits the work-in-progress Orion, a craft designed for the kind of long-duration trips into deep space that have so far taken place only in science fiction. Diagrams and animation helpfully illustrate the Orion’s innovations, which include a believe-it-or-not inflatable habitat.
Serena Aunon, a new-generation astronaut, takes part in training exercises underwater and in desert settings. (Separately, a simulator lab strikingly conjures the Martian surface.) The third featured NASA employee, Lindsay Aitchison, has the captivating job title of space-suit engineer, and some of the film’s most playful sequences relate to her work.
Also, in the vein of levity — weightlessness, to be exact — Krenzien uses footage of International Space Station astronauts, set to Three Dog Night’s “Shambala,” to bright effect. As space travel increasingly becomes the work of a consortium of governments and private enterprise, the international crews’ cross-cultural mischief taps into the spirit of cooperation. It also captures an infectious sense of joy.
If the film’s mix of factoids and poetic longing can sometimes feel clunky, Journey to Space finds a smart balance between idealism and pragmatism, acknowledging dangers and past disasters while contemplating the technological breakthroughs that make sci-fi dreams come true.
Narrator: Patrick Stewart
Featuring: Lindsay Aitchison, Serena Aunon, Chris Ferguson
Production companies: K2 Films, Giant Screen Films
Director: Mark Krenzien
Screenwriter: Mark Krenzien
Producers: Don Kempf, Mark Kresser, Andy Wood
Executive producer: Bob Kresser
Director of photography/stereographer: Sean MacLeod Phillips
Editor: Dale Beldin
Composer: Cody Westheimer
Not rated, 41 minutes
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