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IMAX 3D 'Space Station': Tethers not included

April 16, 2002

— When audiences enter theaters this week to watch the new IMAX film "Space Station," they will be handed 3D glasses to wear.

Considering the experiences awaiting them inside — from climbing over the massive International Space Station to dodging food being tossed around in zero-g — perhaps they should be issued tethers as well.

"Space Station," the first 3D IMAX film to be shot in space, launches viewers on a 47-minute journey to witness the construction of the International Space Station (ISS).

Filmed by 25 specially-trained astronauts and cosmonauts, and directed by IMAX space veteran Toni Myers ("The Dream Is Alive," "Blue Planet," "Destiny In Space," "Mission To Mir"), "Space Station" amazingly captures the sights, sounds, and even feelings of working in space.

Whereas past IMAX films have relied solely on their projection size to envelop the viewer, "Space Station" (and similar 3D releases) uses the powerful effect of depth perception to insert the audience into the action. In previous films you were watching astronauts work, in "Space Station" you are a member of the crew.

Perhaps this is best felt during a rather light-hearted scene during which the crew of the space shuttle and ISS are sharing a meal. When a rogue M&M goes spinning off towards the camera — in other words, you — a quick thinking astronaut follows suit with an orange. The end result is either a desire to reach out and catch it or to duck.

Similar reactions are also common during scenes shot outside the ISS. Riding along with fellow spacewalkers, the feeling of weightlessness could only be made more realistic if the entire theater were aboard an aircraft flying parabolic arcs. While seat belts might be over doing it, they wouldn't be completely out of the question.

Speaking of seat belts, when the IMAX 3D cameras turn to the launches of a Proton, Soyuz, and space shuttle, the entire theater literally shakes from the tremendous thrust captured by the film's soundtrack.

Celebrity narrator Tom Cruise ("Top Gun," "Mission: Impossible," "Vanilla Sky") adds an enthusiam to the film that accurately vocalizes the feelings of the audience. When he exclaims his wonder at the sight of the ISS over the horizon of the Earth, you cannot help but nod and smile in agreement.

Financed by Lockheed Martin and filmed in cooperation with NASA, it is reasonable to assume that both are hoping "Space Station" will generate stronger public support for the ISS.

Unlike previous documentaries which have attempted to reason why the ISS was built, "Space Station" shows more often than tells, leaving the viewer to decide on his/her own. That said, after the excitement generated by the film, you would probably be hard pressed to find anyone critical of the program.

"Space Station" premieres April 17, at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. It opens to the public on April 19, in 24 theaters nationwide and then expands into 14 countries. The film set a record for commitments by theater owners, with more than 100 filing pre-leases to carry "Space Station."


Fisheye view of the deployment of the International Space Station (ISS) Node 1 module and its mating to the Functional Cargo Block (FGB) during the STS-88 mission. (IMAX/NASA)

Two astronauts test self-propelled backpacks while space shuttle Discovery is at the International Space Station. (IMAX/NASA)

Tom Cruise, at center, poses with NASA astronauts at the premiere of the 3D IMAX film "Space Station" at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. From left to right: Robert Curbeam, Marsha Ivins, Koichi Wakata, Scott Altman, Nancy Currie-Gregg, Bill Shepherd, Susan Helms, IMAX producer Toni Myers, Jim Voss, Yuri Usachov, Yuri Lonchakov, Jim Newman and Brian Duffy. (collectSPACE)

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