Passport to the Universe

Passport to the Universe

American Museum of Natural History, New York, USA

Film review by Simon Plate, Potsdam

A voyage for cosmic citizens.

Length: 19 min

Unidirectional and omnidirectional versions available

Release: 2017

What is our cosmic address? This is the lead question that guides us through this journey. In “Passport to the Universe” the American Museum of Natural History takes us on an awe inspiring experience as we lose ourselves among the most distant galaxies and realize the smallness of our existence on planet Earth.

The journey begins on Earth. We look up as stargazers, watching the night sky. Seeing the stars from our terrestrial perspective, it was for long hard to understand that the starry sky is not just a two-dimensional surface but that it has depth. This third dimension is what the movie wants to unveil. A beautiful panoramic view of our Milky Way gives us a foretaste of the cosmic journey about to happen.

We leave Earth and head out to ever more distant locations in the universe: From Mars to Jupiter and beyond the Milky Way galaxy. During the journey, our position in space is constantly referred to. Either verbally or visually by marking where the “pale blue dot” – Earth – is situated. As we increase distance, away from our cosmic home address, we only spend short time at individual objects. “Passport to the Universe” does not impart in-depth knowledge about these objects and locations in space, but wants to set our place in cosmos into perspective. This perspective leaves us with a deeper understanding as we realize that we are “citizens of the cosmos”.

The visual language is mainly based on a space flight simulation. State-of-the-art visuals and data sets were used: From recent pictures of Saturn taken by the Cassini spacecraft to the current understanding on the structure of our Milky Way galaxy. Smooth animations and dynamic transitions create a deeply immersive feeling.

Tom Hanks as the narrator was just a perfect choice: His sonorous voice accompanied by verbal interactions with the audience and the wonderful sound quality make this show also an audio-immersive experience. In parts, especially in the beginning of the movie, the music is a bit over-dramatic: The journey has not even started, but the music suggests we are sitting on top of a rocket ready to lift off.

In general, the movie covers a topic that could also easily be adapted to a live planetarium show. A movie would, in principle, not be necessary using modern planetarium techniques: Real time space flight software, accompanied by live commentary of a planetarium operator, would be a more sustainable solution from a didactic point of view.

Nevertheless, “Passport to the Universe” is a very captivating movie that perfectly shows the dimensions of the cosmos. A movie of 20 minutes in a planetarium sounds like a short time. And indeed time passes quickly on this faster than light journey. But it is a fascinating journey that wraps a lot of information in a comprehensible way. It is hard to impart more knowledge with such high quality in only 20 minutes. And it is a journey for everybody: It is rightfully acclaimed that we humans are citizens of the universe, that we are a part of the cosmos. In so far, the movie has a deep social message the viewer should take home. So go on – watch this fulldome movie. Every cosmic citizen should attend to this wonderful journey!

12th FullDome Festival, May 24, 2018 

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