Moonstruck by Imax

Friday, September 23, 2005

The next best thing to going to the moon? Rocketing up there on the Imax screen, bespectacled in funny, polarized 3D eyewear.

"Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon 3D," narrated by space enthusiast Tom Hanks (also a producer), is a gee-wonderful virtual visit to the arid orb, which uses ingenious technical sleight of hand to -- let's face it -- fake it beautifully.

To create the sensation that we are bounding like gravity-free lambs on the lunar surface with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, director Mark Cowen and crew have culled authentic footage from various kinds of stock -- 16mm, 35mm and TV Kinescope video -- and blown them up into the 70mm Imax format. Then, using a combination of computer-generated imagery and live-action reenactments (astronauts on wires frolicking across an authentic-looking lunarscape of foam and concrete), they've created the illusion we're taking that giant leap for mankind, too.

The reenacted scenes include many of the Apollo mission's storied moments: the first landing, by Armstrong and Aldrin, July 20, 1969; later visits by Apollo 14's Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell; and Apollo 15's Dave Scott (a consultant for the movie) and Jim Irwin as they visit the enormous canyon known as Hadley's Rille. In the most poignant episode, Apollo 16's Charlie Duke takes a private walk to leave a photograph of his family -- with a personal message on the back -- for future visitors. Even on the moon, these guys never forget home.

-- Desson Thomson

© 2005 The Washington Post Company