Posted on behalf of Leslie Sage
Watching the new IMAX 3D documentary film A Beautiful Planet, I was struck when astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti noted how contemplating the planet for months on end from the International Space Station (ISS) convinced her that it is a spacecraft. ‘Spacecraft Earth’ may be an old theme, but Cristoforetti spoke with passion about how humanity, as its crew, must look after the ship. The film, which showcases spectacular footage of Earth shot from the ISS, is intended in part to spur awareness of the negative influence we are having on the planet.
A Beautiful Planet — directed and written by Toni Myers, whose work includes 3D documentary film Hubble 3D (2010) — is a collaboration between NASA and IMAX. After three years of testing digital IMAX equipment on board, NASA astronauts trained in using the cameras — Kjell Lindgren, Terry Virts and Barry Wilmore, as well as former astronaut Scott Kelly — did the shoots over 15 months from the Cupola, a module of the ISS with seven windows. Cristoforetti, Kimiya Yui of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov also contributed imagery.
I found the images stunning. The mass thunderstorms over Southeast Asia, with many lightning strikes per second, was extraordinary, as was the footage of the Atlantic Ocean around the Bahamas under a full Moon. The hundreds of plumes of smoke arising from ongoing slash-and-burn of the Amazonian rain forest were disturbing. Shots of nighttime North and South Korea were dramatic — the North almost completely dark, the South brightly spangled with light.
The film makes some serious points about climate change, such as the melting of the Greenland ice sheet and mass deforestation, without getting overly preachy. Yet it probably could have done with a little more preaching. One astronaut, for instance, noted that Earth provides everything we need to survive; the unstated subtext was that if we keep poisoning the air and water, it will no longer do so.
The actress Jennifer Lawrence narrates, her distinctive voice adding depth to what was, at times, a rather trite script. The 3D was the best I’ve ever seen, but I experienced some vertigo and nausea; anyone with balance problems should be prepared to close their eyes to rebalance.
Regaining equilibrium is ultimately what this film is about. I hope it convinces skeptics that protecting Earth is an urgent task.
Leslie Sage is senior physical sciences editor at Nature; his email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Beautiful Planet opens in IMAX cinemas on 29 April in the US, and 27 May in the UK.
For Nature’s full coverage of science in culture, visit www.nature.com/news/booksandarts.