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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 2/21/01

Inside the Space Station
2000 (2001) - The Discovery Channel (Artisan/F.H.E.)

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Inside the Space Station Program Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A-/C+

Specs and Features

50 mins, NR, letterboxed widescreen (approx 1.78:1), single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, 5 featurettes (Mircorp, Zvezda Mission, Neutral Buoyancy Lab, STS-96 Mission and STS-101 Mission), 2 promotional trailers, ISS Timeline, photo gallery, Director's Q&A text, press kit, program-themed menu screens with music, scene access (15 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1, 2.0 surround & 2.0 stereo), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

Even as you read this, some 220 miles above the Earth, astronauts and cosmonauts are building the most complex and daring engineering project ever attempted by mankind - the International Space Station (which now goes by the name Alpha). When complete, it will be as big a 2 football fields and you'll be able to see it on a clear night from Earth, as it passes overhead at a blazing 17,000 miles per hour. From the station, humans will make detailed observations of the Earth's surface, to study the effects of global warming and pollution on the environment. New materials and medicines will be created to benefit all of us, which can only be produced in microgravity. It's here that we'll learn about how the human body reacts to long term exposure to weightlessness, and begin to prepare for manned trips back to the Moon and Mars. And we'll eventually reap benefits unknown from the medical and scientific research conducted on the station. The bottom line is that, from now on, there will always be a human presence in space - 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

The Discovery Channel was recently granted unprecedented access by NASA to document the efforts to construct the space station. Using high-definition cameras, they went behind-the-scenes to see how astronauts and cosmonauts train for the task. They interviewed many of the scientists, technicians and engineers that are working on the massive project. And massive it is - some 16 nations are cooperating to build the station, constructing modules that must fit perfectly together when they're joined for the first time in orbit. Did you know that NASA is designing robots to work with crewmembers both inside and outside the station (one looks suspiciously like Boba Fett of Star Wars fame)? Did you know that engineers are designing the world's first space rescue vehicle to allow astronauts to return to the Earth from the station in the event of an emergency? Discovery's cameras capture all of this. The result is Inside the Space Station, an hour-long documentary, narrated by actor Liam Neeson, which was recently broadcast on The Discovery Channel. And now, thanks to Artisan Entertainment, it's available on DVD.

Since the program was shot using high-definition cameras, the video you'll see on this disc is, by and large, amazing in terms of clarity and detail. Everything shot by the Discovery team was high-def, so all of the interviews, the behind-the-scenes footage, recreations, and even some of the launch video, is really a pleasure to look at. The CGI material was produced at a high-def resolution as well, so it too looks amazing on DVD. The only exception to this is some of the on-orbit footage - footage of missions taken by astronauts in space, using older, analog camcorders. When that appears, the image gets noticeably softer and is plagued by all the usual analog problems. But it's not overly distracting and some of the more recent on-orbit video WAS shot hi-def (so you'll occasionally see some truly amazing shots of the Earth from space, for example). When the footage IS mastered from hi-def, colors are rich and accurate, contrast is excellent and edge-enhancement is virtually non-existent. This is a great looking documentary, no doubt about it.

There is one frustrating thing about this video - while the program is presented letterboxed, it's not anamorphic, which is a shame. It's particularly frustrating, because many of these discs are shipping with a sticker on the package that clearly says 16x9. I was very disappointed to discover that that's incorrect. Still, the disappointment passes quickly once you start watching. The video is undeniably great, 16x9 or not.

The audio is also impressive for a documentary program, because it's been mixed in full Dolby Digital 5.1 for DVD. There's wonderful use of the rear channels for effects. For example, you'll hear lots of whooshing as space shuttles pass by, and there are lots of nice little sounds (like mission communications audio) that are quietly placed in the rear channels to add ambience. The bass is also very good - the rumble of a shuttle launch is deep and true - and the program's soundtrack is well presented. This isn't a 5.1 track that will put your home theater to a test, but given that this is documentary program material, it's a somewhat unique and fun mix.

There aren't a ton of extras on the disc, but what you do get is appropriate and worth having. There are 5 short featurettes on the disc, covering various aspects of the subject material in more detail (from recent station construction missions to how they filmed the underwater footage in the documentary in high definition). They each run between 1:30 and 3 minutes, and were seen on The Discovery Channel as "science updates" during commercial breaks. The video quality isn't great, but it's still nice to have them. You also get 2 promotional trailers for the program, which were shown on Discovery, along with a small gallery of production photos. Additionally, there's a look at the program's "press kit" and a text-based Q&A with the program's director, Pierre de Lespinois. Finally, you get an interactive timeline on the station's construction, which allows you to see (mission by mission) just how the station is going to be assembled over the next 5 years. It's cool, but it's a little awkward to navigate. As I said, this isn't an awesome special edition, but what you get is worth having.

The space program is, I think, the natural and inevitable result of our human desire to explore. It's the great adventure - possibly the greatest adventure in the history of mankind. And the International Space Station is the first permanent step in a journey that will one day lead us to the stars. What could possibly be more exciting? Inside the Space Station wonderfully captures this spirit of adventure. You'll see amazing things, learn a surprising amount of interesting information, and the video and audio quality on this disc alone (despite the lack of anamorphic enhancement) makes it well worth a look. Highly recommended!

Bill Hunt
[email protected]

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