Are we alone in the universe? That is the question that astronomer Lisa Kaltenegger seeks to answer in director and producer Stephen Amezdroz’s IMAX production The Search for Life in Space. Exploring potential signs of life on nearby celestial objects, the film reflects on the three necessary components to sustain life as we know it — water, carbon and energy — in an informative and awe-inspiring manner. At times, the film’s content leaves you wondering if all this is real, but rest assured, it is. Moon conspiracists, beware!
Beginning with a quote from leading astronomer, co-writer and original host of Cosmos Carl Sagan — “We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and the depth of our answers” — The Search for Life in Space immediately captivates the audience’s imagination with a stunning visual of the Voyager 1 space probe travelling at an astounding 11 miles per second through the vastness of space. Voyager 1 would cover the longest straight path around the United States, from Jupiter, Fla., to Ocean Creek, Wash., (measuring about 2,800 miles), in a little over four minutes. What makes the Voyager 1 probe so special is its mission to signal human presence to other intelligent, extraterrestrial life in the galaxy using The Golden Record, which contains sounds and images of humanity, including greetings in 55 languages and a depiction of the human anatomy, selected by Sagan and his team to portray Earth’s diversity of life and culture. Transitioning from the cold abyss of space to the warm sunny tropics and volcanoes of Hawaii, The Search for Life in Space delves into the core of its content.
The Search for Life in Space spends the majority of its time convincing its audience that water, carbon and energy are essential for life on Earth, even for those organisms living in the most extreme environments, such as volcanoes and glaciers. Therefore, humanity’s best chance of finding life beyond Earth is where these three building blocks are found together. Through beautiful footage of Hawaiian waterfalls, bubbling volcanoes, deep sea life and robust plants in the Mojave Desert, the film does a wonderful job in conveying that if life can exist in such harsh conditions here on Earth, then life could certainly be conceivable on another planet. The Search for Life in Space is both illuminating and thought-provoking, containing vivid footage of Earth, various known nebula gas clouds of deep space and microorganisms known as tardigrades, which are able to survive the empty void of space. However, this film does not use its complete cinematic arsenal to its advantage.
Amezdroz’s production uses resilient Earth life as a template to discovering life on other planets, such as Mars and Proxima Centauri b (an exoplanet orbiting Proxima Centauri and the closest star to our sun), through a creative balance of both Earth and outer space content. IMAX presentations are known for their ability to inspire and enthrall viewers with monumental screen sizes and the raw power of immersive, 360-degree sound systems. An IMAX screenings offer so much potential, yet The Search for Life in Space did not take full advantage of it. The film could have employed a more dramatic soundtrack to complement the stunning visuals. For example, when the film portrayed the various planets and moons that could possibly inhabit life, the music was boring and felt inappropriate. It did nothing to heighten the sense of adventure and vastness that the film portrayed. Throughout the film, the low-frequency sounds that would have made the audience feel alive were absent, which brought me to the verge of falling asleep and drifting into my own dream world of life in space.
To promote its screening, Fernbank Museum of Natural History hosted Out of this World Day on Saturday, Oct. 8., which included demonstrations from Southern Area Rocketry, Georgia Tech Ramblin’ Rocket Club and the Charlie Bates Solar Astronomy Project. Friends and families had the opportunity to build stomp rockets and launch them high into the sky. The event, which also incorporated viewing the sun through a telescope on various wavelength settings, mainly targeted younger children. However, the packed theater was composed of a diverse age group, reflecting the film’s comprehensible explanations and enticing aesthetics.
With viewings running until Feb. 2, 2017 at the Fernbank Museum, I highly recommend The Search for Life in Space to those who wish to challenge their minds and explore the possibility of sharing the universe with extraterrestrial life forms.