Warner Bros. // 1982 // 36 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Norman Short (Retired) // April 4th, 2002
The era of the Space Shuttle begins.
Hail Columbia! is a 1982 IMAX film chronicling the launch and return of the first shuttle Columbia on its maiden voyage. Warner has provided this along with many other films from the IMAX format to DVD, but this one suffers from age more than most.
James Whitmore narrates the tale of the first launch of the Space Shuttle, and shows interviews with the astronauts and footage from NASA, from the cheering crowds, and from orbit.
Even now, I get a thrill out of seeing a Shuttle launch. Remember seeing one for the first time? I remember watching this first launch with awe and pride. This brought the memory back, and that made the disc worth watching all by itself. I found it also interesting to look at the film from the perspective of 2002. Before the first launch, nobody was absolutely sure the tiles that protect the Shuttle during re-entry would work, or if it would burn up in the atmosphere if even a few tiles were to fall off. Now of course we know that it does work, and that a few tiles did fall off but didn't effect the re-entry. I also had a somber moment when I realized that this shuttle had the same parts and design as did Challenger, which exploded after launch. Good thing it wasn't a very cold day for that first launch or the Shuttle program might not be alive today.
Most of the enjoyment from the film came from the nostalgic view, and the enthusiasm of those who witnessed or participated in the mission. I came away feeling a bit better about NASA than I have lately. That's enough for a 36 minute feature.
Compared to other IMAX films on DVD, the age of this film really shows. The source elements showed wear, speckles, and dirt. Edge enhancement is evident on occasion. However, much of the footage wasn't very sharp to begin with, and these scenes are very soft and show grain. Other scenes, however, look magnificent, such as the views of Earth from space. The age (and available technology) of the sound elements are also at issue. The 5.1 Dolby Digital mix did make decent use of the various channels, such as using the rears for an off-camera interviewer's voice while keeping the astronaut's from the front. It was a bit disconcerting at first, but I thought it a nice use of the discrete channels. Twice during the program, they show the Shuttle launch, and all channels come out full with the blast. It wasn't bad, but it still didn't have the rumble or presence we've become accustomed to from more recent films. The only extra was a trailer for IMAX films, which was noticeably better in the picture and sound departments from the main feature. I enjoyed the trailer almost as much as the film itself.
My only real complaint is all we have is a 36 minute film and a trailer. It seems even a single layer disc might hold two such films if they don't put extras on, which they didn't. I'd rather see more extra content or a second feature for perhaps a bit higher price. IMAX theaters have finally gotten into the business of showing feature length films, but right now we're mainly seeing 35mm prints blown up to 70mm. I hope the format catches on and full length features begin filming in the IMAX format.
I'd have to put this particular IMAX film in the rental category, unless this particular film has some special meaning for you. Videophiles who love IMAX DVDs for their picture quality will find better images elsewhere, and as a program this one only rated average for me.
Nothing indicated gives me a reason to convict this film or disc.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 36 Minutes
Release Year: 1982
MPAA Rating: Not Rated