Produced by K2 Films, Inc. and Giant Screen Films, JOURNEY TO SPACE will both inspire a new generation of young people to dream of new horizons in space, and engender a new appreciation for the accomplishments of the Space Shuttle Program among an older generation who came to take it for granted. NASA’s next era will be its greatest yet. That is the clear “roadmap” painted by JOURNEY TO SPACE. The film absolutely annihilates the perception that the space program died with the end of the Space Shuttle Program by showcasing the exciting plans NASA and the space community are working on, and the challenges they must overcome to carry out audacious missions such as landing astronauts on Mars and capturing asteroids. By using extensive interviews with astronauts Chris Ferguson (Commander of the final shuttle mission) and Serena Aunon (a new astronaut chosen for future flights), as well as a brilliant narration by film and television legend Sir Patrick Stewart, JOURNEY TO SPACE gives a sweeping overview of past space accomplishments, current activities and future plans.
Although it only runs a brief 41 minutes in length, 'Journey to Space' manages to be both a love letter to the Space Shuttle program and a preview of where NASA is heading next (hint: it's big and red and Matt Damon spent time there) in its short amount of time. While the presentation is slightly disjointed in what it covers, it's one of the better space-themed IMAX movies to be produced...which, of course, also means it has some wonderful imagery.
One of the big selling points of 'Journey to Space' is that it's narrated by former Star Trek: The Next Generation star Patrick Stewart. But, honestly, that's pretty deceptive – as Stewart probably has less than 5-minutes worth of actual narration here. He's featured at the beginning, at the end, and for a few sporadic one-liners here and there. The majority of the documentary is narrated by a trio of people connected to the space program.
First up is former NASA astronaut Christopher Ferguson who tells about his love for the Space Shuttle program and how sad it was for him to see it end. Then, there's Lindsay Aitchison, an engineer and the designer of a new space suit for astronauts that proves to be both functional and highly mobile. Finally, there's astronaut Serena Auñón, who discusses the development of the Orion spacecraft and NASA's plans for a mission to Mars, which viewers are told (generously, perhaps) could happen as early as the 2030s.
While all this stuff is interesting, it does feel a little unfocused. For me, the first part about the Space Shuttle was the most interesting and engaging – but I suppose you can't make an IMAX movie (which, of course, many school kids are going to wind up seeing in science centers and museums around the country) and not provide a little inspiration, so the last half – which deals primarily with sending humans to Mars – deals with that topic and, since we are nowhere close to making that happen yet, includes a lot of computer animated stuff, as opposed to the real-life shots of the shuttle, astronauts in orbit, and space that fill up the early parts of 'Journey to Space'. The dullest part is smack dab in the middle when Serena is telling us about the spacesuit she's working on. Not only isn't the topic all that interesting (unless you're a kid wanting to grow up to build spacesuits instead of be in one), but the visuals here aren't all that exciting either.
The biggest stumbling block – at least at the time of this writing – between adding this one to your collection or just renting it is the price. Shout Factory has released 'Journey to Space' at the same price point as other studios' feature movies (at around the $30 range), and honestly, there's just not enough content here to warrant that kind of investment. Yes ,the documentary looks great and there are several visual versions of it from which to choose, but there's less than an hour of material (including the extras) on this release.
Still, like most documentaries made for IMAX, there are some wonderful visual images here that are sure to show off one's 4k TV capablities. It's just a question for potential buyers whether the amount of content is worth the current price. I'm still recommending this one, but I also recommend waiting a few months for a price drop or a sale.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Journey to Space' launches onto home video with this 4K UHD/Blu-ray release, with the Blu-ray containing both 2D and 3D versions of the presentation. The 4K Ultra HD disc and the 25GB Blu-ray come housed inside a black eco-Lite Vortex keepcase, which has one of those plastic flaps on the side that you have to snap open in order to open the case. A slipcover matching the artwork of the keepcase's slick slides overtop. Neither the 4K UHD nor the Blu-ray are front-loaded with trailers, and the main menus look the same on both discs (a window-boxed animation of the Orion spacecraft approaching Mars with the title logo above it), with the exception that the Blu-ray's menu shows up in 3D (for those with compatible TVs). Menu selections run horizontally across the bottom portion of the screen.
The Blu-ray in this release is region-free, despite being marked for Region A on the box and disc itself. Ultra HD discs, in case you didn't know, are all region-free.
'Journey to Space' uses footage shot on a number of different film formats, first and foremost IMAX. It is presented in 4K at the 1.78:1 aspect ratio, although it's important to note that the majority of non-IMAX-shot footage is window-boxed in the center of the screen during the presentation.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about this release (Shout Factory's first in the Ultra HD format) is that it offers viewers the choice of watching the 4K presentation in either Standard Dynamic Range (SDR) or High Dynamic Range (HDR). The difference between the two being that HDR enhances both the color and contrast of the 4K image. This is the first Ultra HD release to give viewers this option – most likely permissible because of 'Journey to Space's 41-minute runtime. In other words, it's doubtful studios could provide the option for a feature-length movie unless they put each on separate discs.
The great thing about having both HDR and SDR for the documentary is the fact that one can compare the two versions – and the different in color content is dazzling. Assuming one's 4K TV is HDR-compatible (most new models are, but some of the older/earlier sets are not), viewers are in for a real treat as the images provided here are stunning...and stunningly sharp. In fact, it's hard to imagine owners of HDR-compatible sets will ever choose to watch the SDR version, except for comparison purposes. That's how much better the HDR content looks.
The only major problem with this presentation is how inconsistent it can be at times. As noted, there's a lot of different footage from a lot of difference sources, and the lower-quality stuff really suffers (one of the reasons, no doubt, why much of it gets window-boxed here). The highlights are the stuff shot in IMAX, including Space Shuttle launches in both daytime and nighttime. Because of the different sources, however, facial tones and features are far from consistent – as are the amount of details and depth in the footage and images. Overall, though, viewers are going to enjoy this one quite a bit, and despite having a couple of IMAX DVD and Blu-ray releases in my collection, the 4K quality provided here is the closest I've ever felt to having a real IMAX presentation in my home.
I did notice a couple of seconds with motion judder in them – something that other reviewers of other 4K titles have frequently listed as an issue on some of these early UHD releases. The same judder appears on the Blu-ray disc, so – assuming both discs are taken from the same 4K transfer – this appears to be an issue with the overall transfer itself (and the glitch may even go back to the source material) rather than anything specific to only the 4K disc.
Although this review is focusing primarily on the 4K disc, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the 3D version of 'Journey to Space' that is contained on the Blu-ray disc in this set. I'm fortunate enough to have a 4K TV that supports both HDR (as well as the competing Dolby Vision) and 3D and that's actually one of the reasons I chose the 4K TV (an LG model) that I did – so I could still enjoy my 3D Blu-rays, even though – so far – the Ultra HD format isn't supporting 3D at all. Anyway, what the 3D image doesn't have in terms of clarity (at least compared to the 4K image), it more than makes up for in terms of depth and providing a further way viewers can feel immersed in the presentation. As much as I enjoyed watching the 4K HDR version, I can honestly say I enjoyed watching 'Journey to Space' in 3D just as much. If you're lucky enough to have a TV that supports both formats, that's even further reason to pick up this release.
Both the 4k Ultra HD and Blu-ray discs in this release feature an English Dolby Atmos track. Unfortunately, this reviewer does not yet have (nor is likely to get in the near future, as I rent and therefore need to stick with wireless speaker options where surrounds are concerned) an Atmos set up. So until and unless one of my colleagues with Atmos updates this section, I can't comment on how the full-blown Atmos audio sounds.
What I can say is that the downmix (to 7.1 Dolby TrueHD) impresses the most during the several Space Shuttle launches that occur during the documentary. The presentation opens with one such launch and the rumbling and LFE output is pretty fantastic. Sadly, there's not a whole lot of other areas where the audio really makes an impression. Which is not to say the surrounds aren't used at all – they are, but in much more subtle ways...my favorite of which is when an astronaut throws an orange (at least I think that's what it was) at the camera in zero gravity and it "boinks" off the rear right speaker. The dynamic range of the audio is impressive, and there's certainly no glitches to be mentioned, with the possible exception that Patrick Stewart's narration sounds a little more subdued that the other narrators here – not muddy per se, just as if a slightly different method was used to mix in his voice.
In addition to the Atmos track, the Ultra HD disc contains 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks in Spanish and French (these are just 5.1 Dolby Digital on the Blu-ray). Subtitles are available in English SDH on both discs.
A educational look at both the end of the Space Shuttle program and what NASA has planned for a future trip to Mars, the biggest stumbling block for most potential owners of this disc is the price point – which is currently around the same as feature-length Ultra HDs, despite offering much less content. This one is recommended, but it's something you may want to hold off on purchasing until the inevitable day when many of these first 4K releases start hitting the bargain bin.