A Beautiful Planet (4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital)

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Beautiful Planet BD

With ardent narration, Jennifer Lawrence pleads with listeners with patronizing charm to stop destroying planet Earth with your stupid antics. Okay, that was harsh and unwarranted, but such sentiments are subtly sprinkled like glitter from a Christmas card throughout this IMAX documentary, “A Beautiful Planet.” In this follow-up to her “Hubble 3D” (which featured voiceover work by Leonardo DiCaprio), Toni Myers writes, directs, produces and edits another 45-minute spectacle of large-scale natural beauty and innocuous propaganda.

The film begins by putting things into perspective with a computer-generated journey through the cosmos, zooming through the stars in the Milky Way galaxy like an accelerated episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation before focusing in on the Solar System and the blue globe we call home. This joint venture between IMAX and NASA brings hi-def digital cameras to the International Space Station (ISS) and aims them through a module called “The Cupola” to display stunning vistas of Earth.

For the most part, the panorama is choice locations like the ginormous Manicouagan impact crater in Québec, Canada and frozen Great Lakes, along with events like the Pacific Super Typhoon Maysak and endlessly fascinating footage of lightning seen above and through storm clouds. It is easy to admire the beauty from a distance, and the result of politics showcases the most striking images. The bright lights of South Korea abruptly cease at the 38th parallel boundary with North Korea. The India-Pakistan border appears as a meandering orange line from space.

"Hello world, it's nice to meet you."
The IMAX release of A Beautiful Planet is
digitally re-mastered into the image and
sound quality of The IMAX Experience®
and An IMAX 3D Experience®.

The routine of ISS astronauts comes before the cameras and it is interesting, if cursory. Upon first look inside, there is a disorienting peek at equipment attached to surfaces… every surface. You learn intriguing tidbits like fingers get hot during sun side spacewalk repairs so they tuck them in the shade whenever possible, plus administrative details you didn’t necessarily want to know like all water aboard is recycled into potable water, including sweat. Particularly mesmerizing is a spiky-haired Italian astronaut relishing every last drop of espresso from a zero-gravity cup. There are a few brief anecdotal scenes such as the crew celebrating Christmas by leaving milk and cookies for Santa by the airlock.

Paul McCartney's “Let Him In” is the soundtrack because “someone's knockin' at the door” when new astronauts arrive at the station. Equally playful is Becky G’s “Break a Sweat” while showing a typical exercise regimen. Not quite as successful is Harry Nilsson’s novelty song “Coconut” intoning “she put the lime in the coconut” as an eager astronaut attempts to recapture fresh fruit careening weightlessly from a storage bag.

For the geographically challenged, cities they talk about as they pass overhead (especially at night) are helpfully illuminated white. Clever cinematography challenges accustomed orientation and it took me a moment to identify, for example, the boot of Italy upside down. The effectiveness of the images varies. Fishing boats appear as riveting green light-emitting diodes in the waters of Asia at night. For whatever reason, seeing drought-stricken California wasn’t compelling to me. Perhaps a before and after picture would have aided appreciation.

It ends with a speculative CG excursion to Kepler-186, a five-planet star system about 500 light-years away that may contain “another Earth.” The narrative keeps climate science pretty elemental (no pun intended). This tldr; approach works well enough for the purposes of this film, unlike its Wikipedia entry which reads like a dissertation. As expected, the bigger the screen you watch this on the better will be your viewing experience. It puts a “face” on the diverse beautiful of our planet and makes a worthwhile appeal for its conservation without undue ostentation.

Bonus featurettes include “An Extraordinary Vision” (about two and a half minutes long) with Toni Meyers talking about her creative process and noting how the astronauts themselves came up with ideas regarding what to film. Jennifer Lawrence is a little more earnest here imploring action against climate change. In “IMAX: Astronaut Filmmakers” (about three minutes long) we get to see some of the IMAX equipment used to capture the images and eavesdrop on training astronauts how to use the camera gear. One nugget here is that they sent e-mails to each other on how to frame shots. “ABP Computing” is the third and final featurette.

Grade: 
4.0 / 5.0