Space has always been a fascinating subject to me. Whether it was exploring the planets in our own solar system, or learning about the possibilities of life light years away, the boundless expanses of the universe always captured my mind’s eye. Stepping into a local showing of A Beautiful Planet, it felt like I was able to recapture that childlike wonder and obsession with learning about the cosmos, for better and for worse.
A Beautiful Planet is the latest IMAX documentary produced by Walt Disney Pictures (uncredited) and IMAX Entertainment. Narrated by actress Jennifer Lawrence and directed by Toni Myers, this nonfiction piece explores what life is like aboard the orbiting International Space Station. Additionally, the film sets out to explore the possibilities of other Earth-like planets, and what might happen to our own if conditions keep deteriorating.
First and foremost, the good news. If you were a fan of visiting the planetarium as a child like I was, you should get exactly what you want out of this documentary film: impressively shot space moments. This feature fits extremely well in IMAX 3D technology, like it was the only way this film should ever be experienced. Whether it’s the closed quarters claustrophobic nature of the Space Station itself, or the wide-angle shots of the only landscape we’ve ever known, there’s plenty here for both adults and children to enjoy.
One shot in particular really stuck with me. It was nighttime, and the lights of the cities were the only thing lighting up the surface of the Earth. Eventually, the footage comes across this island of bright light that looks like it’s in the middle of the ocean. However, you learn this is South Korea. The blob of darkness to the north, with only a few scattered lights peeking out, is North Korea. Both countries have roughly the same population, but that one shot alone shows you just how different these two nations are.
Not only is some of the footage breathtaking as it is, but a few may even send a chill down your spine with how “in your face” the IMAX technology feels here. It’s safe to say that 99.999% of us are never going to venture into space, but this film will likely be the closest thing you’ll get to experiencing life in zero gravity. Having to exercise over two and a half hours each day to keep your muscles from deteriorating, learning just how convenient gravity actually is for Earth life, A Beautiful Planet does a fantastic job putting things into perspective.
But Houston, this movie has problems. Look, I know the average IMAX documentary isn’t feature-length by any means, but with such an interesting subject matter and hundreds of outlets to explore, A Beautiful Planet feels criminally short. Just as the film was starting to explore the possibility of other Earth-like planets in the universe, it’s over. Sitting at only 46 minutes in length, so much was skimmed over for the sake of fitting a shorter time slot. You could make the argument that the majority of people would get bored with a documentary if it were more drawn out, but with space exploration so interesting as it is, why would more of it be seen as a bad thing? One of my all time favorite IMAX documentaries, fellow Disney-produced, Titanic exploration piece Ghosts of the Abyss, sits at the 91 minute mark and captivated me from beginning to end. I would have loved to have learned more about the lives of those on board the International Space Station, but their time was glanced over for absolutely no reason other than “to keep things short.”
Nevertheless, I am glad to have seen A Beautiful Planet. Even if the run time is disappointingly short, what we are provided in terms of footage should still be able to capture the awe and wonder of space exploration you’re looking for. The documentary itself may feel like a bit of a safe bet, relying more on the viewer’s eyesight rather than their desire to learn, but it’s at least a fascinating safe bet. Besides, who wouldn’t want to know what it’s like brewing coffee from an espresso machine in zero gravity?