The Planets 360 – Modern
NSC Creative, National Space Centre, UK
Film review by Christian Theis, Mannheim
“The planets” by Gustav Holst – hardly a piece of music fits better into the planetarium dome. Of course, Gustav Holst was initially less influenced by science than by astrological or mythological interpretation, which is also clearly expressed in the visualizations in the show – at least in the “modern” version shown in Jena. Nevertheless, it would be too easy to commit Holst only to astrology.
All in all, the final version of the planetarium show consists of three freely combinable components, more precisely a short introductory sequence in which scientist Dr. Aderin-Pocock introduces Gustav Holst. She briefly explains his motivation and the milestones of sky research of the past century –accompanied by appealing visualizations.
Two episodically arranged variants are available for the main part. Both deal with Holst’s “planets”, one in the “classical” style (total duration 50 minutes) and the other in a “modern” style (total duration 23 minutes). The version shown at the FullDome Festival in Jena is limited to the almost three minutes short introduction followed by the modern version. The latter will be discussed in the following with regard to visualization.
In principle, the show is designed in such a way that all possible combinations can be implemented, whereby the sets for the individual planets can be arranged in a modular way. In particular, mixtures of classical and modern style are conceivable. This flexibility allows exciting combinations and is an appealing approach per se. In the sequence of the planets, for example, the producers deviate from Holst’s sequence of movements by Jupiter instead of Venus following Mars.
The music, in turn, was recorded by the Philharmonia Orchestra. It creates – on the highest quality – the tension-filled atmosphere so typical of Holst. The visualizations are based on mythological motives, science fiction or observations of celestial bodies. The latter rarely happens in a quasi photorealistic manner, but rather serves as a condensation nucleus of further interpretations and fantasies. All in all, the visualizations are graphically interesting and technically well implemented, so that they make you want more, even if not all sequences are of the same quality or comprehensibility. E.g., the shaky movement of the falling astronaut in the Jupiter sequence was just as irritating for me as many low-resolution representations, in which one feels involuntarily reminded of a lack of render time. Other scenes like the opening sequence to Mars or the scenes to Neptune and Venus are very attractive and successful in their combination of mythological or astronomical background and visual fantasy.
To what extent the individual episodes/planet interpretations appeal to you is certainly a matter of taste. They never get boring, neither from the graphic interpretation nor from the dramaturgy given by the music. Because the episodes are never too long, the sequences always remain musically and visually exciting. However, only short sequences are well suited for all places in concentric seating arrangements, while the majority of the episodes clearly prefer a unidirectional viewing direction.
All in all, “The Planets 360” by NSC Creative is a successful show worth seeing and hearing, based on an innovative modular concept that invites you to experiment in the dome. Because experimenting is an essential part here, making the selection of sequences and their arrangement understandable to the audience will certainly be a challenge that the short introductory part cannot completely cover. Nevertheless, exactly this might motivate people to stay in the planetarium stimulating in-depth discussions and transform the modern planetarium partly into a “star theatre”.
12th FullDome Festival, May 26, 2018