IMAX's A Beautiful Planet Gracefully Delivers a Scary-as-Hell Message

NASA Commander Barry (Butch) Wilmore during a spacewalk, in the IMAX film A Beautiful PlanetEXPAND
NASA Commander Barry (Butch) Wilmore during a spacewalk, in the IMAX film A Beautiful Planet
Photo courtesy NASA © 2016 IMAX Corporation

Very rarely does anyone want to see a movie in a theater surrounded by a bunch of young children — even people with kids — but if there’s one place where you won’t mind and might even be charmed by their adorable ooohs and aaahs, it’s at IMAX’s new 3-D film, A Beautiful Planet, playing at the California Science Center.

How far IMAX has come with its 3-D technology is off the charts. Where once a 3-D movie, like, say Beowulf (2007) could induce some serious vertigo, A Beautiful Planet is a naturally immersive environment. There’s not much of a story, as the film seems to exist to showcase these beautiful images from space and the strange ways astronauts have to live. But what there is of a story follows the astronauts who make their way to the International Space Station (ISS), most of whom are traveling in space for the very first time, so we get to experience their awe and joy at seeing the blue planet as they experience it.

European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti photographs Earth from the Cupola onboard the International Space Station, in the IMAX film A Beautiful Planet.EXPAND
European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti photographs Earth from the Cupola onboard the International Space Station, in the IMAX film A Beautiful Planet.
© 2016 IMAX Corporation

Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti is particularly engaging unabashedly grinning widely as she stares into space. At one point, Cristoforetti — the epitome of an Italian citizen — gleefully shows us her ISSpresso (a space espresso machine made by the Italians), and savors every bit of its brew from a zero-gravity cup. She’s like a kid in a space-candy store, and this very human element helps brace the audience for some pretty doomsday news, delivered in dulcet tones by Jennifer Lawrence.

You see, this isn’t just a story about space exploration and how nice it is when countries work together to achieve their goals — we’re told in a few different ways how our manmade borders aren’t visible from space. It feels more than a little like a sly cover-up to tell us that these people in space have a first-row seat for our destruction of the planet. The 3-D images of California’s drought, for instance, are at once disconcerting and moving. From up above, you can see there is something wrong and that the amount of dry land does not in any way match up to the small bodies of water meant to keep it moist.

The vivid colors of the Bahama reefs, as seen from spaceEXPAND
The vivid colors of the Bahama reefs, as seen from space
Photo courtesy NASA © 2016 IMAX Corporation

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As I was watching this, I found myself feeling the same thrilling anxiety as I did while watching Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity, only the story was better, and what they were saying was actually scary to me: All of this could go away if we don’t do something now. In the theater, the children had all grown silent. An L.A. Dads meet-up group had joined the press for this preview screening, and I was happy for it, because you could look around and see their gangly kids with those awkward glasses covering half their faces, mouths agape as Lawrence pleaded with them to become responsible citizens. And then the story moved on to some other out-of-this-world imagery of the blazing sun, or the planets we think might harbor life, or the lit-up cities sparkling around the globe at night.

A Beautiful Planet is yet another worthwhile film from IMAX, but if you’re a cool auntie or uncle out there, maybe do your civic duty and bring the kids to see a movie both entertaining and convincing, so they can get a little forward-thinking propaganda tattooed on their adorable brains.

Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and the Gulf of Mexico are seen in this spectacular view over Texas. Gas and oil well flares are visible.EXPAND
Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and the Gulf of Mexico are seen in this spectacular view over Texas. Gas and oil well flares are visible.
Photo courtesy NASA © 2016 IMAX Corporation

California Science Center, 700 Exposition Park Drive, Exposition Park; opens Fri., April 29. californiasciencecenter.org/imax/a-beautiful-planet-3d.


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