Up on the Roof: IMAX Space Station comes to DVD

For those of us without $20 million to spend on a tourist trip to the International Space Station, a much less expensive alternative has now appeared. In 2002, the IMAX movie, "Space Station" was released to theaters across the country. Now you can enjoy a trip to the ISS without leaving your home as "Space Station" is now out on DVD.

Using a specially-designed IMAX camera that spent 337 days aboard the station--along with a second camera residing in the shuttle's cargo bay--over 69,000 feet (13 miles) of footage was obtained. The film captured everything from the initial launch and construction of ISS, along with what it is like to live aboard the station and work outside, with the Earth spinning by at 17,500 mph and 200 miles below.

All of this now comes down to a 47-minute video best suited to the largest home theater screen you can find. Replicating the IMAX experience at home is obviously a challenge, but then, so is giving the feel of a real spaceflight without years of training at Johnson Space Center or Star City, followed by a powerful ride to orbit. The original IMAX version came the closest to providing that feeling of being in space to millions worldwide. The impact of the small screen is obviously diminished, but still well worth the price ($19.98 suggested retail).

Space enthusiast Tom Cruise provides the narration as we enter the world of the astronauts and cosmonauts who inhabit our first true home away from Earth. We follow the astronauts though their training, from floating in a giant pool to simulate the weightlessness of orbit to donning virtual reality goggles and gloves to go outside and experience an emergency in space. They even walking down the same tree-lined path as Yuri Gagarin did over 44 years ago as we prepare for launch from Baikonur Cosmodrome.

Usually the closest anyone gets to a launch pad is several miles away, but here the cameras take us right out next to the rocket as we hear the engines light as a Proton booster blasts into the gray sky in the bleak Russian wilderness. Sitting on the pad, we are pelted with debris and even witness the protective camera housing be destroyed. It is easy to think that we might be next if we stand our ground. A similar sensation greets us at Kennedy Space Center as we watch a Space Shuttle lift off.

Once on orbit, serenity takes over. Even though we are traveling at great speed across our planet, it all happens like a slow-motion ballet, just as originally envisioned by Kubrick and Clarke in "2001: A Space Odyssey."

The Space Station looms above us as the shuttle Discovery pirouettes to move into position for docking. An astronaut rides on a stationary bike that is hardly stationary - traveling five miles a second over Earth, clearly visible out a large round window at our feet. What a way to get your daily exercise! New supplies are unloaded and huge packages and modules that would weigh hundreds of pounds are lightly moved about to their respective spots. This is the world of space as never seen before. As one of the perfectly chosen pieces of music tells us, we're "Up on the Roof" (by The Drifters), the roof of our home planet, watching it glide by, ever-changing, always beautiful, with no human-made borders to spoil the neighborhood. We see just how fragile and wonderful is this blue oasis is in space.

As Tom Cruise tells us, "One day you might visit the space station. You could be planning a trip to another planet. Only tomorrow knows what you'll discover."

  • Special features:

Unlike many previously-released IMAX space movies on video, "Space Station" has many extra features that make it an even better bargain.

Featurette, "Adventures in Space - The Process of Movie Making"

A behind-the-scenes video about the making of "Space Station." We learn about what it takes to film an IMAX movie in Earth orbit. Each shot must be carefully choreographed and rehearsed so that the precious film is not wasted. Calculations are done so that just the right Sun angle is achieved while on orbit since the remotely-controlled canister does not waste a second of its 8-minute film load. Aboard the Space Shuttle or Space Station it is a little easier to be spontaneous, but that usually only comes after the needed shots are out of the way and they know that there is extra film.

A favorite shot in the film involves astronaut Susan Helms supposedly caught sleeping in her cubicle aboard the station. As she points out in the documentary, the Imax camera is a very loud contraption and "you can't sneak up behind someone and film them in Imax and not have them know because the sound is so obvious."

Tom Cruise talks about his love of space and tells us, "Will I ever make it into space? Man, I hope so!"

  • Audio commentary by director Toni Meyers and astronaut Marsha Ivins

Here we learn more of the secrets behind the filming, along with many personal thoughts about specific shots. When in Russian filming the Proton launch of the first Space Station element, the IMAX camera was mounted in a supposedly blast-proof canister close to the pad. At launch, a shower of debris is thrown up and a piece of concrete shatters the porthole in the housing and the lens filter in front of the very expensive IMAX 3D camera. When Toni first saw the destruction she told herself that she might as well just stay in Russia now that she had destroyed their camera. Luckily, the filter in place in front of the lens sacrificed itself so that the camera could live and the damage was only superficial, making it an exciting scene that never could have been planned.

  • A tour of the ISS with the astronauts

There are actually two films that give tours and commentary about the International Space Station. The first is a tour filmed by astronaut Ed Lu and was downlinked directly to Earth. His audio commentary is sometimes broken up by bad communications links, but is still fascinating to hear as we learn the intimate details of the station. For myself, one fascinating question went unanswered when you could see a series of photographs taped above a bulkhead hatch that appeared to be famous explorers such as Roald Amundsen. Unfortunately, there was never a close enough shot to tell for sure and no mention is made of who they are or why they are there.

The second film is actually a standard film produced by NASA after each Space Shuttle mission. They are called Post Flight Press Conference films and consist of the crew gathering at Johnson Space Center after their mission and narrating a 15-minute film of the highlights of their time in space. This film was from the mission of STS-108. These are not normally made available to the general public so it is nice to see its inclusion on the DVD.

  • Still Gallery

This segment is a bit disappointing in that there are a total of 16 photos when there should have been room on the DVD for hundreds. The shots that are there are great, but we should have been given so much more. The photography available is outstanding and amazing, and yet not much of it is ever seen outside the film library at NASA or on some astronaut's office cubicle wall. They could have expanded this section a lot.

  • IMAX Trailer

Another disappointment in that the trailer is a general one for IMAX films and we do not get the actual trailer for "Space Station." Not to say that the trailer you do see is not impressive, but again, space is not that limited on a DVD that the actual movie trailer for the production you have purchased should be not included.

  • Bottom Line:

This is one of the best IMAX space movies made and having the DVD as part of your personal collection is a must. NASA itself has lousy PR and the fact that they have partnered with the IMAX Corporation, allowing them to film the things NASA never shows us, and to produce these films about our expansion into space, is the best decision NASA ever made.

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