Faster than Light: The Dream of Interstellar Flight

Faster than Light: The Dream of Interstellar Flight

A co-production of Spitz Creative Media, Mirage3D, Thomas Lucas

Film review by Susanne Hüttemeister, Bochum

Reaching the stars has been a dream of mankind since time immemorial. Spitz Creative Media, Mirage 3D and Thomas Lucas Production bring this subject to the dome in an impressive 24-minute show.


Length: 25 min

Unidirectional orientation

Release: July 2017

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The show invites the audience to reach for the seemingly impossible while still being anchored in the laws of science. This focus on a classic theme of science fiction combined with a science-based discussion of what concepts may actually take unmanned human probes and spacecraft to the stars makes the show unique. It is at the same time highly entertaining and informative. The audience is encouraged to dream and in the end finds itself at least considering whether some of the concepts described may plausibly be realized in the foreseeable future.

The recurring thread is a trip to Proxima B, the potentially habitable planet orbiting the nearest star. The numerous reasons why Proxima B is likely to not be actually inhabited are touched upon in passing only, and the fact that habitability indicated by e.g. the presence of an atmosphere can and will be explored telescopically long before embarking on a trip spanning more than 4 light years is not mentioned. Since the point of the show is the exploration of means of travel to the stars, these caveats are completely excusable, though.

The show first explores the projects Orion and Daedalus, which developed concepts of reaching a nearby star within a few decades using fission and fusion propulsion respectively in the 1960s and 1970s. A small and forgivable inaccuracy in the narration implies that project Orion advanced to tests of nuclear propulsion while the actual experiments were limited to conventional explosives. Other than that, the history of these widely forgotten projects is told very well.

Then, the show moves on to a concept that is seriously discussed today: solar sails accelerated by laser beams. The idea described is similar to Project Starshot, but places the lasers on the moon. Antimatter drives are introduced next. The show clearly states that – while certainly possible – such propulsion systems present a number of problems that are entirely unsolved at present.

Given the content, the most misleading part of the show may be its main title. Almost the entire show, with the exception of the speculation on Warp drive in the last five minutes, which is gratifyingly and clearly labelled as science fiction, is explicitly not about faster than light travel. This grounding in what we know to be possible, distinguishing science and science fiction, actually is an – in the view of this reviewer – outstanding feature of the show. Choosing a title that negates this seems slightly strange and may be a bow to audience expectations that are then – gently and successfully – corrected within the show: The take-away message is that also within the framework of today’s science, dreams are possible.

Visually, the show is highly professional and stylistically coherent. Especially the scenes involving spacecraft and space stations are (almost always) very well done, while the alien landscapes are nicely executed but not uniquely innovative. Darkening the back part of the image is a well-applied feature to reduce cross reflection while remaining fully immersive and taking full advantage of the fulldome medium. Obviously, this makes the show suited for unidirectional theaters only.

Well-known actor Sean Bean does a good job as a narrator of a (mostly) science-based show. To German ears, his style of narration may be on the verge of being overblown, but he very well conveys a sense of wonder. This nicely reinforces the optimistic mood and emotional impact of the show: You are permitted and should dare to dream, and – as long as you do not leave the realm of the science – just possibly your dreams will one day become a reality.

In summary, this recommended production combines science and emotion, realism and dreams. It addresses a topic that has gained timeliness through the recent discovery of Earth-size planets orbiting nearby stars.

12th FullDome Festival, May 25, 2018  [/three_fourth_last]

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