Release Date(s)2016 (December 11, 2018)
Studio(s)IMAX Entertainment/NASA (Mill Creek Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: See Below
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: D
Shot on location on the International Space Station during the Expedition 42 and Expedition 43 missions in 2014 and 2015, A Beautiful Planet offers a gorgeous and immersive look at life in space… and the Earth from orbit… highlighting the beauty but also the negative impacts that Humanity is having on its home world. The 46-minute film is narrated by actress Jennifer Lawrence, and includes astronauts Scott Kelly, Samantha Cristoforetti, Terry Virts, Butch Wilmore, Kjell Lindgren, and Kimiya Yui, as well as cosmonauts Aleksandr Samokutyayev, Yelena Serova, and Anton Shkaplerov. It was directed from Earth by Toni Myers in cooperation with IMAX and NASA.
A Beautiful Planet was shot in native 4K using Canon EOS 1D-C and C500 cameras, with Canon EF Cinema and Zeiss Master Prime lenses. It was finished as a native 4K DI and is presented on 4K Ultra HD at the 1.78:1 aspect ratio (note that theatrical exhibition happened in both 1.44 and 1.78). The disc offers HDR10+ high dynamic range, but not Dolby Vision. It should also be noted that A Beautiful Planet is one of the first films released on this format to feature the “IMAX Enhanced” certification. Essentially, this means the original IMAX footage has been processed with a very light application of Digital Noise Reduction and the title features DTS:X object based audio. Why you would want to add DNR to a native 4K image I’m not sure, but the result is still spectacular, so don’t count the DNR against it. This is, quite simply, an absolutely stunning 4K image. The HDR grade is restrained, but it basically makes the contrast and color gamut as real-life natural as possible. This is as close as you can get to seeing what the Earth actually looks like from orbit without going there yourself. It’s just stunning. That said, there is an issue in the video that actually impacts the audio. Without it, I’d have graded the video A+ without hesitation. As it is, I’m afraid I can’t. Read on…
The English DTS:X audio mix is fine in the sense that the clarity is excellent, with nice (if light) atmosphere and immersion, but this is just not the kind of soundtrack that’s going to really put your audio system to the test. However, starting at about 5:39, there’s a jump cut in the video. We see Samokutyayev aboard the ISS starting to open the hatch to the newly-docked Soyuz… and then suddenly the video cuts and he’s hugging Cristoforetti who’s already come aboard. It appears that about 12 seconds of video has accidentally been omitted. That means, from this point, the audio is 12 seconds behind the video until about 16:51, when there’s a second jump cut and the audio is correctly aligned again. During that 11 minutes, by the time Lawrence starts describing features of the Earth, the shot she’s talking about is already long gone. How this happened – and how someone at Mill Creek failed to catch it in QC – is beyond me. But it’s frustrating as hell. (FYI, the included Blu-ray is correct – it does not have this error.) In any case, additional audio options are available in French and Spanish DTS:X, with optional subtitles included in English SDH, French, and Spanish.
Both the 4K disc and the Blu-ray in the package feature the same special features as follows:
- An Extraordinary Vision (2:33)
- IMAX: Astronaut Filmmakers (3:02)
- ABP Computing (2:38)
Don’t expect much, because it ain’t much. This is essentially EPK content, but you do get a little bit of insight on how the film was shot. You also get the film in Blu-ray format (but not Blu-ray 3D) and there’s a Digital code on a paper insert.
Despite the audio screw-up, which is annoying, the good news is that A Beautiful Planet offers absolutely terrific native 4K eye-candy… and it’s space eye-candy to boot. The title looks and sounds terrific, but I just turn off the audio and watch it with my own choice of soundtrack via headphones. (I highly recommend David Bowie and Brian Eno.) I wish I could tell you that Mill Creek planned to fix the audio issue – if they did this title would absolutely get my full recommendation. But I can’t, so it doesn’t. Still, the good news is that the title is currently less than $20 on Amazon. If the audio error doesn’t bother you, have at it.
- Bill Hunt