Twelve people have had the experience of visiting our Moon’s surface. Probes and sensors tried to fill in our knowledge before landing but there’s nothing like first hand observation. Pockmarked with craters, ripped by rills and coated in dust, the gray, still surface stretches onto the horizon. Nothing marks distances, no clues to perception tell you where you are. Valleys may be a gentle slope down a few steps or a brusque drop down a one kilometre precipice. Without trees, bushes or human markers, you feel lost in an ever changing yet hauntingly, similar realm. People’s senses, tuned to the pace of life on Earth, got shocked by this vista but nevertheless were sufficiently able to perform on the Moon.
People and our Moon are the ingredients for this film. Join these two together and we get a taste of philosophy and a bucket full of technology. The beginning features children in a sparse film set responding to history questions. Who were the Apollo astronauts? What did they eat? Would you like to go to the Moon? These all obviously lead to the point of the film: that exploration is in our blood and we need to keep satisfying our craving. The innocense, lack of knowledge and desire of these children mirrors that of the unproven astronauts in the mid 60s.
With this basis, the film jumps into the good stuff. Using the full expanse of the IMAX screen combined with superb audio, the Moon arrives. Step by step, from landing the lunar module, opening the hatch and placing the foot onto the dusty plain, we have the impact of the desolation spreading about. All is still, quiet, transcendent, then a foot falls nearby and a shower of rocks and dust shoot towards us. Ducking, we smile and remember we’re just in a theatre. Interspersed with realistic but artificial events are vignettes of actual Apollo footage. The astronauts do strange shuffles to cross craters or jump with both feet high in the air, experiencing the delicious freedom of the lesser gravity. The film smoothly interweaves these with computer generations to deliver a thorough lunar presence.
The authenticity of the film’s computer generation appears both lifelike and technically accurate. Perhaps this is in part from the sponsorship of Lockheed Martin, a very knowledgeable partner. Renditions of the lunar module have creases in the right locations, antennas pop out appropriately and even dust and smear markings age the vehicle where it stands. As another example, the separation of the ascent stage from the descent stage stresses the technical imagination as no one saw this event from the vantage point shown in the film. Also, the audio wizards were busily at work as well. Actual capcom flow gets precisely overlaid onto computer generated images to increase the feel of authenticity.
Given this technical wonder, you might be worried about too dry a film. It isn’t. Comedy is present as live footage shows astronauts tripping, falling and playing golf. Animation puts us on the rear spoiler while the electric lunar buggy zooms between boulders, through craters all the while bouncing over exotic rough terrain. A little suspense highlights the challenges. Our animated astronauts have a vehicular accident from which to extricate themselves. Though only computer generated, there remains the overlying message, ‘what if this were to really happen?’.
Yet, this is the moon one more time. Some of us luckily enough saw the live broadcasts. Many subsequent films deliver the message of exploration and accomplishment. This is not new. The newness is the huge IMAX screen and the computer generated imagery. Don’t wait to watch this at home! This needs the big screen and the comical but vital 3D glasses. Experience the dust getting kicked into other face, feel the force of the rocket roaring overhead, lean with the car while zipping through a corner. The medium is what brings this alive again.
Adding to the my experience was one special audience member. Dr. Buzz Aldrin attended the special viewing for participants of the International Lunar Conference being held in Toronto. He generously offered a short question and answer session before and after the screening. Sharing of his memories of walking on the Moon and his thoughts for today, dovetailing with NASA’s recent announcement on returning to the moon, amplify the timely and authentic message of this film.
Our Moon spans our history, our culture and our world view. We need it as a stepping stone to greater things. Though indeed desolate, it has its own beauty and special nature that fascinates and attracts us. The film Magnificent Desolation by Tom Hanks, Gary Goetzman and Mark Cowen puts our Moon before our eyes and under our toes. Take the easy journey to watch this film and prepare for our much more difficult real life journey to return to the Moon.
Review by Mark Mortimer
Magnificent Desolation starts on September 23 at IMAX theatres around the world.