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The Twelve Days of Bits-Mas!
Blu-ray Disc review by Jeff Kleist of The Digital Bits

Kaguya's Month in Orbit (Blu-ray Disc)

Kaguya's Month in Orbit
2008 (2008) - NHK Video
Released on Blu-ray on June 18th, 2008.

Program Rating: C
Video (1-20): 18
Audio (1-20): 17
Extras: N/A

Uncompressed PCM

Buy this Blu-ray now at Amazon!

What does a short documentary film about the Moon have to do with Christmas? Well... 40 years ago today, Mankind first left Earth orbit for another heavenly body. When NASA's Apollo 8 mission orbited the Moon for the first time, it was a huge gamble and one of the greatest scientific accomplishments in human history. While several more missions followed, including manned landings on the surface, the U.S. lunar program - and the vast majority of lunar research - stopped with the return of Apollo 17 in 1972.

Last year, as part of their SELENE program, the Japanese space agency (JAXA) launched the Kaguya probe, (so named for a mythological Moon child. It's mission: To orbit, map and study the Moon with an extensive package of scientific tools. The most important part of Kaguya for our purposes, of course, is the 1080i HDTV camera and high bandwidth transmitter it was equipped with to send home the first ever high-definition footage from the Moon's orbit... and Earthrise in HD.

Earthrise in HD

Coming in at just a little under 30 minutes in length, this is not an amazingly entertaining documentary. Frankly, this Japanese (Region A) Blu-ray release from NHK Video lives and dies for what it is: Eye candy for space geeks. The quality of the footage is stunning. There are plenty of direct sun shots where everything is brightly lit, as well as shots of the transition to and from the dark side, where the pools of shadow in mountains and craters will give you some of the blackest blacks you'll ever see (and some nasty lens flare). The only part of the documentary that annoys me is that they occasionally pause the footage to zoom in on a particular feature (like the Apollo 17 landing site) or a particular crater. This happens even on the "footage only" version you can view by selecting the rightmost option on the main menu. This zooming temporarily reduces the image resolution and exposes the biggest downside of this video: digital compression artifacting (macroblocking) present in the original transmission. After all, it's a bit difficult to pull high bitrate HD video from 250,000 miles away. The audio is PCM 2.0 only, and you have a choice between Japanese only narration (the default) or just background music.

Make no mistake, this disc is crazy expensive per minute (currently, a little over $40 imported, though has it for a little less), especially the way the exchange rate has been going. For me, though, I've been dreaming of the Moon since I could walk, so I'll never get sick of looking at this disc. If you've got a big screen, throw this baby up there and be amazed. You'll got a better look at the Moon's surface from orbit than anyone but the astronauts back in 1968. Note that down the road there may be more footage, as Kaguya's orbit is continually adjusted to lower altitudes (go here for image archives - click HDTV). For now, though, I'm happy to stare and dream. Happy Holidays to all of you... all of you on the good Earth.

Jeff Kleist
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