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Entries in Journey to Space [2015] (1)

Wednesday
Jun082016

Journey to Space (2015)

Beyond the Final Frontier

Earlier this year, I reviewed a film about astronaut Gene Cernan, called The Last Man on the Moon, and lamented the fizzling out of our collective will when it comes to space exploration. Mark Krenzien's Journey to Space has rekindled some of my personal hope and wonder--not due to any hard-hitting scientific or philosophical revelations, but purely based on visual spectacle. Journey to Space has the distinction of being an IMAX film and an early 4k Ultra HD release, which means it boasts the scale and the resolution to match its ambitious goal of setting imaginations ablaze.

Narrated by Patrick Stewart, the film offers a breezy primer on man's quest to move beyond his physical limitations and take to the skies, then to the stars, and through whatever portal the Great Beyond might open up to us next. Using restored archival footage and state-of-the-art digital animation, the filmmakers create a comprehensive timeline of achievements past and present, and even speculate as to how a Martian colony might take root.

Our guides are, naturally, a couple of astronauts. Christopher Ferguson commanded the shuttles Atlantis and Endeavour, and he speaks to a long lost reverence and awe for the space program. Talking over footage of the Endeavour's last tour before arriving at its new home, the California Science Center, he marvels that the craft was operated by a computer system less sophisticated than the phones we carry in our back pockets today. We're also treated to 3D-enhanced photos from the Hubble Space Telescope, which come alive as Impressionistic paintings of deep space.

But how to reach these heavenly bodies? Serena Auñón tackles that multi-faceted quandary as one of the key advisors on the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV), which will someday transport a small team into deep space. We see her conduct exercises with other astronauts ranging from physical endurance tests that simulate the conditions on Mars, to tweaking designs in the futuristic suits that will allow the initial crew of volunteers to survive and work on what may very well be a one-way trip.

From inflatable habitats to zero-gravity training exercises to deep-sea simulations of space walks and footage of scientists constructing the International Space Station in low-earth orbit, Journey to Space turned my brain synapses into a fireworks display, lighting up my imagination through truly breathtaking images. It also solidified for me exactly what it was that I couldn't stand about last year's other big red-planet movie, The Martian: Ridley Scott's gazillion-dollar epic looked great but lacked soul.

Space exploration is one of our noblest, most promising, and most terrifying endeavors, and to see it reduced to pat hipster snark in the form of Matt Damon's quipping cypher and Drew Goddard's nearly conflict-free screenplay is mind-boggling in the context of films that are supposed to be taken seriously.* Though Krenzien was not in direct (or even intentional) competition with the other film, he wound up creating the superior "Mars movie" of 2015. Journey to Space captures the spirit, the reason, the fear of space exploration--and in a third of the time as Sir Ridley.

*I was one of three people on the planet who didn't arch an eyebrow when The Martian was nominated in The Golden Globes' "Comedy" category.