Once upon a time, Lauren set out on a mission to find something super-fun, educational and Mark (her loving partner) friendly. So what better than a celebration of space and the moon at the Charles Hayden Planetarium at the Museum of Science in Boston?! It’s fun, the Planetarium is shiny and new (recently undergoing a multimillion dollar renovation – pic left) and totally nerdtastic – perfect for date night.
That is, of course, until it turns into a surrealist nightmare of epic proportions. How did an evening of storytelling and experimental film (with a booztastic reception) go from “aw, honey, look! we can hold hands at the Planetarium!” to “get me out of this goddamn nightmare”.
Moonwalk. That’s how.
First, an explanation. Moonwalk is the experimental film by artist Clea T. Whaite, and has won critical acclaim and the IBM Innovation Prize at the 2007 Boston Cyberarts Festival. Created specifically for full dome planetariums, the film explores humanity’s obsession and experience with the moon. Sounds interesting right? Conceptually, this is a stunning film. Imagine hearing the word ‘moon’ spoken in 30 different languages as photos of the moon rotate above you like stars in the sky. Imagine hearing those familiar songs about space (Rocket Man, Blue Moon, Fly me to the Moon) while seeing archival footage of Buzz Aldrin bounding in minimal gravity. The idea of gathers previously unseen footage of chimps getting ready for space travel, astronauts tripping over themselves and falling slowly to the moons surface, and Russian dogs getting strapped into their rocket ships – it’s all very exciting, troubling, disconcerting and fascinating.
Unfortunately, the reality of the film is far more devastating. To your eyes, to your ears, to your sensibilities, it is a pure disaster. Imagine if you will, being trapped in a bulb surrounded by noise. Lots of noise. Multiple voices talking loudly in different languages, one over the other (and some with that awful spittle in the back of their throats clicking and popping) while images of the moon flip and twist and shake violently. Each moment you see a clip of archival space footage, that fleeting moment where you think “oh, cool”, it changes into something akin to footage of an Etch-a-Sketch, and is accompanied with screeching white noise that rivals even the worst nails on a chalkboard.
(a pic from the Planetarium waiting area – a look at our galaxy with a cleverly designed model using LED’s and fluffy stuff)
The idea of the film is ambitious: use amazing footage of the moon that most have never seen before, and juxtapose that with still photos, traditional and contemporary music about space and the moon, and use traditional folklore and stories told around the world about the moon, in the native tongue. Put it all together in a full dome with some of the best equipment and an enthusiastic audience and you’ve got experimental film gold. Until you take all those thing, slap them together in the most obnoxious, pretentious and 2nd year sound-design-student-at-art-school-final-project kind of way. Then it becomes a living nightmare. But hey, had I been seizing during the showing of the film, perhaps things would have been more clear.
I guess the silver lining here is that the Planetarium looks and sounds amazing. All the jumbly garbage whizzing around me during Moonwalk was pristine, and downright magical in clarity and depth. In fact, the whole time I was watching Moonwalk I was thinking “wow, I can’t wait to see something other than this film here”.
I know I sound pretty harsh (to friends I described it as an epic visual disaster the likes of Jurassic Park III) but frankly, when someone has such access to the footage, music and stories that were gathered as ingredients for the film – this noisy, messy disaster has absolutely no excuse for its horrific compilation and execution.
That said: go see anything else at the Planetarium because it is guaranteed to look and sound out of this world.
And here is a pic of me stuffing my face in one of those plastic fan things that has glowing light at the tips…you get them at the circus, and apparently, special events at the Charles Hayden Planetarium. You’re welcome.