(movie review done of the 3-D IMAX version. The DVD is not 3-D, but the same movie/running time)
There are few things I dislike more in modern moviegoing than the 3D IMAX glasses. While few seem to agree with me, I find these bulky glasses irritating and often unnecessary, as most of the 3D pictures make little use of the format beyond throwing out random images towards the audience. Beyond that, the cinematography in most IMAX productions is so stunning that the images are often more pleasing without any gimmicks in the way.
"Space Station", on the other hand, opens with a sequence so stunning that that one scene made the 3D aspect of the film entirely worthwhile. The opening, an utterly dizzying sequence where an astronaut is trying to climb the space station, gives the viewer that remarkable feeling of being there, looking down into the abyss.
Narrated wonderfully in smirky and genuinely energetic fashion by Tom Cruise, the IMAX feature takes viewers up into the International Space Station to experience life with the American and Russian astronauts, who - when not goofing off - must conduct experiments to research how humans are effected by space, among other things.
Director Toni Meyers is certainly no stranger to large-format adventures in space. Meyers has previously edited nearly all of the major large-format space pictures, including "Destiny In Space", "Blue Planet, "The Dream is Alive" and "Hail Columbia!". She produced "Mission to Mir" and narrated "Blue Planet".
Meyers, who also recieves screenwriting credit, spends a fine mixture of time covering information about the mission of the astronauts, providing spectacular imagery and offering a moving and inspiring discussion of how all of these people from different countries have come together to work and discover the universe. Even with a rather quick 47 minute running time, the film achieves a fine balance of imagery (there are several unforgettable moments aside from the opening space walk, which I won't ruin here) and education.
"Space Station" is one of the finest IMAX features I've seen in a long while. While there was a period in recent years where the format was used largely for hokey fictional tales (see the dismal "T-REX"), several new IMAX offerings have thankfully been more concerned with educating the audience and providing a more high-quality and involving experience for the high price of an IMAX ticket. When boy band musicians are paying millions of dollars for the experience, "Space Station" offers about as immersive a space experience as one can get without leaving the ground.
VIDEO: "Space Station" is presented by Warner Brothers in 1.33:1 full-frame. Although full-frame was previously considered the standard aspect ratio for IMAX films transfered to home video, other companies have released IMAX films in anamorphic widescreen on DVD - it's too bad that Warner Brothers has not followed along yet.
Picture quality does suffer from some mild shimmering at times, but otherwise, the presentation looked perfectly fine. Sharpness and detail were consistently very good, as the image always appeared crisp and well-defined. The image certainly didn't sport the kind of depth that it did when I viewed it in 3-D IMAX on a 10-story screen, but it still did have nice depth and small object detail. The presentation isn't going to capture the film's marvelous images the way that they looked in 3-D IMAX, but the movie did generally look as best as I could expect on the small screen. Black level remained solid, while colors appeared bright and rich, with nice saturation and no smearing.
SOUND: The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack (available in English and French versions) was perfectly enjoyable, as the surrounds kicked in nicely for the occasional sound effect and some fine, detailed ambience. This isn't the most aggressive IMAX audio presentation, but it works fine for this particular picture. Audio quality was terrific, with excellent clarity and detail, in terms of sound effects, dialogue and score. A couple of launch sequences offer a nice, deep bass kick.
EXTRAS: Director Toni Meyers and astronaut Marsha Ivins provide an audio commentary for the picture. The two provide an excellent audio commentary, with Ivins providing a very enjoyable discussion of some of the real details behind astronaut work, while Meyers chats about the production and how some of the shots were accomplished.
But wait, there's more: we also get the 22-minute "Adventures in Space", which functions as a look at the International Space Station, life in space and how the movie was filmed. It's an interesting view of the experience of living in space (freeze-dried astronaut ice cream rules - if you've never had it, try it). Overall, this is definitely an enjoyable look at how this project came together and how the scenes where choreographed while in orbit (and with little IMAX film available in space and not much film per reel, things had to be well-planned.)
Finally, we get a photo gallery and space station audiovisual tours of the STS-108 and Expedition-7.
Final Thoughts: "Space Station" is one of the finest IMAX features I've seen in a while, as it's both visually stunning and very informative, mixing education and entertainment superbly. The DVD presentation is also great, as audio/video quality is fine, and the DVD offers a nice set of supplemental features. Highly recommended.