HBO // 2005 // 40 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Ben Saylor (Retired) // December 2nd, 2007
Only 12 have walked on the moon. You're next.
It's a little hard to review an IMAX DVD because watching it at home automatically puts the movie at a disadvantage. It's just not possible to replicate the IMAX experience in one's home. Even though I viewed Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon on a sizable screen, nothing quite compares to the massive vistas afforded by IMAX's gargantuan screens.
That being said, it would also help if the presentation itself were a better film. Being a NASA history buff and fan of Apollo 13 and the From the Earth to the Moon HBO mini-series, I was very much looking forward to this Tom Hanks-produced venture. What I got, however, is an uneven film that is clearly aimed at much younger viewers than me. Yes, Magnificent Desolation (named after a phrase Buzz Aldrin used to describe the lunar landscape) has its moments, but director/co-writer Mark Cowen and writers Hanks and Christopher C. Cowen have padded the film's already scant runtime with ill-advised and unnecessary detours.
The goal of Magnificent Desolation is basically to approximate the experience of walking on the moon. This is done largely through CGI renderings of astronauts exploring the lunar surface. While the effects aren't bad, they probably come across as more realistic to classes of schoolchildren than they do to adults. To me, it's still more impressive viewing actual still photographs and footage of the astronauts on the moon than looking at re-creations. Al Leinert's masterful, Oscar-nominated For All Mankind, which documented the Apollo missions using photographs and footage, made me feel like I was on the moon much more than this film ever did. To its credit, Magnificent Desolation also contains actual footage of the astronauts at work, but maddeningly, the filmmakers generally have the clips occupy only a small portion of the frame. I suppose the footage wouldn't look as good blown up on an IMAX screen, but it sure would have looked nice at home.
However, reenactments don't comprise all of this film's runtime. There is also a cutesy clip of kids demonstrating their lack of knowledge about the space program. Hanks helpfully gets the kiddies in the audience up to speed with goofy vignettes about the history of man's knowledge of the moon. There's also a tacky and completely pointless "what if" scenario involving a mishap that occurs while astronauts are exploring the moon. This is outdone by a ridiculous scene featuring what is supposed to be one of the kids from the beginning as a grownup astronaut as she traipses about a lunar surface filled with moon bases. The filmmakers do include a nice (albeit brief) tribute near the end to all those who have died in space, however. Oh, and if the astronaut voices narrating the proceedings sound familiar, it's because a truckload of Hollywood stars, including Matt Damon, Bill Paxton, Morgan Freeman, Matthew McConaghey, and Paul Newman, were brought in to do voiceover work.
The DVD itself is top quality in terms of video and sound, which isn't surprising given that this is an IMAX film. In the extras department, there is a special feature named after every Apollo mission with the exception of Apollo 13. For Apollo 11, there is a video diary of that mission from blastoff to splashdown that uses archival photos and videos and runs about four-and-a-half minutes. For Apollo 12, there is a photo gallery with a musical accompaniment that runs approximately four minutes. For Apollo 14, there is a trivia game with questions about the Apollo program in general. If you answer them all correctly, you get to view another video. For Apollo 15, there is a brief presentation on the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) that lasts about a minute and a half. For Apollo 16, there is a featurette called "Mechanics and Activities" that shows the different stages of an Apollo mission, from the Saturn V's liftoff to the command module's return to earth. This is a scrollable gallery with detailed renderings of the different vehicle stages. Lastly, for Apollo 17 there is a near-18-minute featurette called "Extra Vehicular Activities," a series of radio transmissions of the astronauts from that mission working on the lunar surface, played over a grouping of photographs from the area the astronauts are in at the moment in the broadcast. There are six of these that can be played separately or all together. Overall, the extras vary in quality; while the video diary, photo gallery, and "Mechanics and Activities" segments are interesting, the trivia game is too easy, the LRV presentation is too brief, and the "Extra Vehicular Activities" segment is extremely boring.
I'm sure Magnificent Desolation plays well with children, and it was clearly made with good intentions, but at the end of the day, it is still a wildly uneven exercise from talents who could have done better. Guilty of failing to live up to expectations.
Review content copyright © 2007 Ben Saylor; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.66:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
Running Time: 40 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Apollo 11 Video Diary
* Apollo 12 Photo Gallery
* Apollo 14 Trivia Game
* Apollo 15 Lunar Roving Vehicle Guide
* Apollo 16 Mechanics and Activities Gallery
* Apollo 17 Extra Vehicular Activities Presentation