Geometric patterns explode against the night sky, pulsing to rock-heavy synthesizer sounds. Shapes swirl in on themselves, suffuse, jump out with bright new energies and suck the viewer into the astro-void. The bold and brassy "Laserium Starship" at the National Air and Space Museum's Spacerium is an hour-long cosmos-politan journey that may not blow your mind, but will certainly bend it.
From the moment you look for an imaginary seat belt as Spaceship Earth recedes in the opening seconds, "Laserium" is a celebration of how quickly laser technology has developed and a breathy hint at advanced entertainments incorporating lasers, holograms and whatever else The Future will bring.
One of the quaint art forms of the '60s psychedelic era was the light show. It went for looseness, connecting to the music, encourageing an expansion of sexual perceptions. The technology was as innocent as it was absurd: overhead projectors, bowls filled with gelatin, unfocused slide shows. By contrast, "Laserium" -- in which computer-programmed lasers generate multiple images against the planetarium dome -- is a giant step for mankind, technology and the leisure industry.
"Starship" (which will alternate with another light show, "Laserock I," at the Spacerium through March 31) is full of illusions and allusions -- some obvious (a "Star Wars" tribute), some clever (the "Close Encounters" tribute and a galastic game of Pong). Some of the tableaus are breathtakingly imaginative and evocative, particularly an enticing, abstract spacrship slowly trailing vapors as it disappears into the far reaches of darkness. The effects, many of them improvised by the laserist in counterpoint to the laser's programming, are as varied as imagination: They explode, implode, jitterbug and juke, swirl and sway, loop and languish as glorious spectral rainbows caught in gauzy clouds that speak of new life forces.
The music against which they unravel is what one would expect: Tomita, Camel, the Alan Parsons Project, Synergy, Yes and liberal doses of John Williams. There is a sense of journey, direction (up, out and inside), despite the necessarily abstract nature of the images, occasional three-dimensinal illusion and purity of color. It's a perfect family entertainment -- and fuel-efficient, too.
You've come a long way, Yoda.