Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon 3D, Tom Hanks' IMAX 3D love letter to the space program, has a clear agenda. Hanks wants to shake away the national indifference to manned space travel. He aims to create the kind of enthusiasm that was shown for the Apollo program back in the '60s, especially with young people. To that end, Hanks and company have crafted a 40-minute feature centered on a series of walks across the lunar surface. Special effects, the IMAX cameras and a very effective 3D process combine to work magic; the moon walks are strikingly realistic. Throughout the production, imaginatively presented 2D footage covers the history of the Apollo program. The film wraps up with a tantalizing look at the future of space expeditions, including a lunar outpost.
As with most IMAX productions, there is a logy stretch about two-thirds of the way through the proceedings, but the languid feel passes quickly. The bottom line is that the documentary works. Tom Hanks' enthusiasm is successfully imparted and should spark increased support for the planned return of humanity to the moon in 2018.
Incidentally, those who believe that the Apollo trips to the moon were faked by the government will be happy to know that their viewpoint is acknowledged in the movie. There is even a brief segment depicting a blooper during the filming of a fake moonwalk. Some will dote on the irony of a bogus moonwalk being humorously dealt with in a documentary that is mostly a string of elaborately staged moonwalks. More power to them, I guess.
A bit of extra fun for movie buffs: Try identifying the actors who voice the words of the Apollo astronauts. Feel free to use the following as a cheat sheet: Morgan Freeman (Neil Armstrong), John Travolta (Jim Irwin), Matt Damon (Al Shepard), Paul Newman (Dave Scott), Matthew McConaughey (Al Bean), Bill Paxton (Ed Mitchell), Barry Pepper (John Young), Gary Sinise (Gene Cernan), Scott Glenn (Charlie Duke), John Corbett (Jack Schmitt), Brian Cranston (Buzz Aldrin) and Peter Scolari (Pete Conrad). Additional voices are provided by Kevin Pollack, Rita Wilson (a woman!) (Hanks' wife), Tim Matheson, Donnie Wahlberg, Frank John Hughes, Rick Gomez and Neil McDonough.
The participation of so many name actors is not simply because Tom Hanks has a lot of famous friends. A lot of people remember the excitement once generated by moon missions and would like to see it happen again. I remember the whole family watching Neil Armstrong walk on the moon back in 1969. For me, the shivers down the back didn't hit during the moonwalk; I was too busy straining my eyes at the grainy broadcast. Afterwards we walked outside, looked up at that ball in the heavens and listened as my dad said, "Right now.
They're up there right this second - people just like us - walking across the moon." That's when I felt it.
It got old fast, of course. There was little variation between the moonwalks and the magnificent desolation (Buzz Aldrin coined the phrase) became boring. It won't be the same this time. For one thing, the pictures will be much, much better. The roster of astronauts will finally grow more diverse. And the prospect of building a moon base is enticing - who doesn't enjoy watching a construction project? And on the moon, to boot! Best of all, we will be moving outward again. Magnificent Desolation is about hope.