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IMAX Space Station 3D Blu-ray Review

Space has fascinated me for decades, from the sci-fi stuff like Star Trek and Firefly to the real-world aspects like shuttle launches and planet exploration. In fact, I had the good fortune to be at Kennedy Space Center in May for the launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis on STS-132, which was an awe-inspiring experience. While there, I saw an IMAX film about the Hubble Space Telescope, and I heard about a similarly impressive but older IMAX film about the International Space Station. Well, that IMAX Space Station movie has now released on 3D Blu-ray, and during the course of its 47 minutes, I was reminded just how lucky those astronauts are for being able to view the world from the reaches of space.

Narrated by Tom Cruise, the IMAX Space Station 3D Blu-ray is essentially a construction documentary or video log of how the International Space Station (ISS) was built, step by step and mission by mission. The footage is almost exclusively taken from cameras on board the Space Station and/or the nine-plus different space shuttles responsible for bringing and installing the ISS’ various elements and modules.

The film opens with a computer-generated sequence that’s long enough to make you wonder if the entire film will be a virtual reality presentation. Fortunately, it’s not. Those four minutes are a bird’s eye view of some of the virtual-reality training the astronauts go through in preparation for working on the ISS. Although the 3D in this sequence isn’t all that impressive, it sets the stage for what’s easily the most all-access, behind-the-scenes video the public has seen when it comes to footage of the shuttle and space station combined.

The clarity, contrast and overall quality of the 3D effects make you feel like a fly on the anti-gravity wall. Inside the shuttle, outside the shuttle, installing components on the ISS … it’s all here, and it’s all great. Looking down on Earth from orbit is absolutely breathtaking, even from the comfort of your sofa. Basically, if you’ve seen a photo online or in person showing the Earth, shuttle or ISS in two dimensions, a rough approximation of that picture exists in IMAX Space Station — but in full 3D. And seeing them in 3D makes you realize not only how lucky the astronauts are to see these things with their own eyes, but also how little justice those flat photographs do to communicate the beauty of these machines and our planet.

Something I hadn’t anticipated before watching this film is just how perfect “zero g” is to present 3D effects. Objects floating through the air on the space station are not only believable, but incredibly effective and fun. Cameras, pens and even 100-pound crates do float in the air up there, so you never think twice about the effects on this 3D Blu-ray. It’s not Velveeta or cheesy, it’s the way it really is in space, so the effects actually feel believable rather than something that’s been created to be a “gotcha” moment.

The entire film has fantastic depth of field, too, which certainly helps matters, and the 3D is great almost across the board. A few scenes do stand out, though. One is a liftoff sequence with a Russian proton rocket that’s delivering the Zarya module. Quite honestly this scene is amazing, both for its 3D effects and its audio. As the rocket fires its thruster and begins to lift off the ground, debris gets blasted toward the camera in a way that, via the 3D effects, makes it seem like shards of dirt are going to land in your lap. Not only that, but the surround-sound mix associated with this sequence absolutely puts you on the launch pad, with clanks from the rear channels, a surrounding gust of wind, and a subwoofer-killing bassline from the boosters. This scene frankly the most well-executed combination of 3D video and surround-sound audio yet to release on a 3D Blu-ray.

Later in the film, when we go back to Russia after spending some time on the space station, another launch-preparation scene provides visuals that are lifelike in both their depth and clarity. It really does feel in some of these scenes as though you’re standing there watching the setup in person. Going up the elevator to get on the Russian Soyuz is a trip too, because it feels like you’re headed up there yourself and preparing to climb in. Yes, I had a geek moment. It’s safe to bet most people who watch this scene will have one too.

But one of the most memorable scenes for me, probably because I was there for the launch of STS-132, is watching the astronauts on Space Shuttle Discovery get into their jump suits, begin their trip to the shuttle and then liftoff from Kennedy. When you’re there for a shuttle launch in real life, you get to see some of these videos via closed-circuit TV throughout Kennedy Space Center. That’s all well and good, but IMAX Space Station 3D shot those same sequences in 1080p video and three dimensions. You can’t top that. Seeing these sequences gave me the chance to re-live the goosebumps of experiencing a launch in person, but a few moments later gave me more access than I’d ever thought I’d have: a 3D view from the flight deck (cockpit) When the shuttle lifts off, not only do you see video from the flight deck, but you get a point-of-view shot looking outside a portal-like window. It’s the exact view you’d have if you were in the flight deck yourself looking down on the launch pad and Space Coast as the shuttle begins its roll sequence. It’s awesome, plain and simple.

There are a few instances of crosstalk throughout the film, but they’re quite sporadic and brief, and as is the case in other 3D Blu-ray releases, the instances mostly occur on extreme close-ups. There are also no special features in this film, but that’s not a real drawback because this 3D release doesn’t need any. The HD presentation is great, the 3D effects are lifelike, and this 3D Blu-ray release is quite simply a shuttle and ISS fan’s dream come true. Here’s hoping the IMAX Hubble 3D show currently running at Kennedy Space Center will release soon for home viewing as well.

Truly, you want this 3D Blu-ray. You can buy it from Amazon here: IMAX: Space Station (Blu-ray 3D / Blu-ray Combo).

Score: 9.5
Sharp video, great 3D effects, minimal crosstalk and all-access footage from the space shuttle and ISS. Really, what more do you need? This is a great 3D experience, space fan or not.

— Jonas Allen

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