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|Kevin Krock, editor|
The big advantage of IMAX presentations is that they fill your fields of vision and puts you right in the movie. Many of the film shots are structured to thrill you by using panoramic vistas or by flying over water or land. The effect is quite impressive, and at times a bit dizzying.
I’ve seen both The Dream is Alive and Blue Planet in their original IMAX presentations, and while I enjoyed seeing them again on DVD, some of the majesty of the images projected onto a huge screen has been totally lost in the translation to video. They look more like standard documentaries with some fancy visual shots. Regardless, these two movies present engrossing images and stories that cannot be seen anywhere else.
Originally, IMAX films were almost exclusively shown at museums, and most emphasized the more visually impressive aspects of science and nature. Both The Dream is Alive and Blue Planet were originally produced by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum and the Lockheed Corporation, in association with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The films were intended to share the space shuttle’s spectacular views of Earth with those of us who can only dream about visiting space. While both films share stunning images of Earth and the space shuttle, the two movies have very different focuses.
Filmed back in the mid-1980s and narrated by Walter Cronkite, The Dream is Alive looks at America’s early space shuttle program. Viewers see a rare, behind- the- scenes tour of the shuttle program, from preparation and assembly of the launch vehicle to landing. Three separate shuttle missions were captured on film — including two launches that beg you to crank up your subwoofer — and each mission provides stunning views of Earth, while onboard footage shows the astronauts working, eating, and sleeping. One mission shows their first effort to capture and repair a satellite in space, and a section of the film shows how much Earth- bound training the astronauts do. Even though some of the film look a bit dated, this film remains my favorite IMAX movie.
As a follow- up to The Dream is Alive, Blue Planet focuses less on the shuttle and astronauts, and more on Earth, its environment, and the dynamic nature of the world on which we live – as filmed by the astronauts. The planetary tour starts with several beautiful images of Earth from space, then focuses on features that can be seen from space. Using impressive images — from odd surface features like meteor craters to weather- related phenomenon — the film examines Earth both from space and from the planet's surface. Much of the film is also dedicated to teaching you about the incredible impact we have on our planet. It’s amazing what you seen from space, and many sobering images are used to show how much of Earth’s surface has been scarred or changed in the name of progress. Overall, the film truly helps to demonstrate how fragile this planet is, and how we, as humans, need to keep this in mind.
The most significant shortcoming of these two discs is there are essentially no goodies. Both discs share the same main goodie: a single IMAX DVD trailer, which shows clips from the four or so IMAX DVDs that are either available now or in the near future; but that’s it. I was hoping for a little IMAX documentary or something about this impressive format, but this is really a movie-only disc.
The Video, Audio, and Interface…
The video transfer of these movies is generally pretty good, and they were digitally mastered from the original 70 mm film element. However, between the age of the original films and the need to compress the images to a much smaller size, some portions suffer from noticeable artifacts. For example, the opening scene of The Dream is Alive has a lot of early morning shots around the Kennedy Space Center that exhibit flickering in the sky. It’s a bit distracting at times, but, fortunately, not as noticeable throughout the rest of the film. Be aware that the film lacks chapter stops, so you have to fast forward through the movie rather than jumping to a particular scene.
The audio for both films has been remastered and mixed in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. The English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack sounded very nice on my Dolby Pro Logic system, so it ought to sound great on a full DD 5.1 system. As I mentioned, there are a couple of shuttle launches that should sound great on a full DD 5.1 setup. Much of the audio comes from the narration and occasional ambient audio. Finally, in addition to the English soundtrack, there is also a French Dolby Digital 5.1 language track.
There’s not much to say about the user interface. The menus are pretty bare bones with static screens and an audio track on the main menu.
The Final Evaluation…
Both of these discs are pretty basic transfers of visually dramatic films. While they do have shortcomings, they are a treat to have on disc, especially if you’re a fan of the space program. They are pretty reasonably priced, but I think the only way to really appreciate them is on a big screen with a pretty good sound system for the launches. If you’re a big fan of the shuttle program, you may want to pick up at least The Dream is Alive. At the very least, others should give them a rental spin to see some remarkable images of our planet.
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