L5: First City in Space


Reviewed by Steven H Silver

A slightly different type of review. Rather than a books, "L5: First City in Space" is an IMAX film produced in 3D. This is not the 3D we're all used to. This is an extremely realistic 3D which causes you to honestly feel you can move your head and see around corners. The effects (which require a bulky visor, straight out of "Battlestar Galactica") alone are worth the price of admission to this or other IMAX 3D films. Of course, the question remains, is this film worth the cost.

The answer, in a nutshell, is no. Without the 3D, L5 is not worth the price. The film's narrator, an eight-year-old girl named Cheiko, describes the building of the L5 space station and its subsequent efforts to capture a comet for water supply. In traditional space opera fashion, her family has been involved in most major aspects of space exploration, her father having been on most of the early missions to various inner planets, having taken over from Cheiko's grandfather. Her mother, not to be left out, is one of the most important physicians on L5.

The film never gives a real explanation of what L5 refers to. We are only told that the station was built on a point in the Moon's orbit. The name LaGrange is never mentioned, nor is the fact that L5 represents one of five places where the Earth-Moon gravity is effectively nullified. If I could have changed one thing about the film, I would have made it a little bit more educational than it was. I had not gone in expecting a Hugo or Nebula quality story, but I did expect them to give more information about space. Everything was presented in such a matter-of-fact fashion that this could not be a NASA fund-raising film, although it would be interesting to see one of the NASA IMAX films done in 3D.

The two most interesting effects in the movie were the 3D holograms generated by L5's computers and the launch of a space shuttle. The shuttle launch, especially, seen from near the base of the tower, is impressive. But I've always thought a launch was one of the most incredible sights in the world. However, the space shuttle launch raises another difficulty I had with the film.

According to the caption at the bottom of the screen, we are witnessing a launch of the space shuttle in 1981. However, the external fuel tank on the shuttle is rust colored. Throughout the 1981 launches, NASA painted the external fuel tanks white to match the shuttle and the solid-rocket boosters. It wasn't until 1982 that NASA began to save weight and money by not painting the external fuel tank. A second special effects error in the film was the fact that the stars were shot in 3D. From the solar system, there is no possible way for stars to appear closer or further than other stars. They are all to far away for their parallax to offer sufficient difference for the human eye to detect them stereoscopically.

However, one does not go to this type of film expecting a great story. A person goes for the special effects. If you haven't seen an IMAX 3D movie and have the opportunity, I would highly recommend it. I've now see two and the effects were amazing in both. A friend assures me that a third is equally astounding.

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