There’s nothing quite like distance to put things in perspective, and the upcoming IMAX movie A Beautiful Planet offers the ultimate in distance: the blackness between Earth and the International Space Station (ISS). The film uses footage taken by astronauts on the ISS to showcase both our planet’s beauty and the wounds we’ve inflicted upon it.
Director Toni Myers has been making IMAX films since 1971. To prepare astronauts to become directors, camera operators, and lighting experts, Myers and her team set up a special filmmaking boot camp at the Johnson Space Center. Speaking to mental_floss, she explains that the astronauts were thrilled to be a part of the project. So much of their work is scientific and technological, she says, but this was a chance to do something creative and fun. They also love the format. “As the astronauts have always said,” Myers tells us, “IMAX is the next best thing to being there.”
The fledgling filmmakers were sent into orbit with a wish-list of shots, including Antarctica, the Northern Lights, and Beijing at night. “Some scenes were really hard to get,” Myers said. Storms or haze might make it impossible to even see what was happening on Earth. If they missed the shot, the astronauts would have to wait until the next time the ISS passed over the region or city. “It takes a lot of patience and perseverance,” Myers says, “but boy, they nailed it.”
A Beautiful Planet is the first IMAX movie recorded on digital film. The decision to go digital was born of necessity. Shooting IMAX footage gobbles up film at an unbelievable pace. Yet without regular resupply trips from the now-retired space shuttle, the film would have to stay for weeks at a time in space, where constant exposure to radiation would ruin it. Digital recording equipment, on the other hand, could capture an almost infinite amount of image and sound, and then be transmitted down to Myers on Earth.
The film is narrated by Jennifer Lawrence, who Myers describes as “a natural choice. She embraces the film’s message wholeheartedly, and likes being a part of our effort to inspire better stewardship of Earth.”
Myers says the film is her way of enlisting future generations to help protect our home.
“I hope [viewers] will emerge from the movie with a new appreciation for our spectacular planet. I’m not saying we don’t have some work to do, but it is truly a beautiful, beautiful place and I hope the film will inspire people to look after it.”
A Beautiful Planet opens worldwide in select theaters this Friday.
All images © 2016 IMAX Corporation // Courtesy of NASA.