Usually, our initial thoughts of outer space are images of a vast, never-ending emptiness that spans over an eternity of blackness, a constant, continuously-expanding desert of an unsympathetic and unwelcoming darkness with bright white dots twinkling in the far distance. From our vantage point — the tiny, barely-visible blue dot looking into the enormity of this uncaring, endless night sky — the vacuum of the cosmos feels so barren and desolate, so enormously lonely and expansive, that space sure has lots of, well, space. It may seem that way to us, but in reality, space is limited and very busy with endless activity and heavy traffic bursting in perpetual chaos. So much for trusting intuition.
We give very little thought to the fact that the universe is actually relatively small from the point of view of planets and galaxies — or even space itself. Our perspective of things and our desire to have the universe conform to our design is meaningless compared to the reality of all existence. In this seeming immensity of emptiness, collisions happen all the time; it's a fact of life countless objects floating in a sea of blackness must contend with, including massive star systems. Currently, the Great Andromeda Nebula is expected to collide with our own Milky Way Galaxy in another 4 billion years, given the current orbital trajectory of the two. This fact, that collisions happen often, is one we must also accept.
In IMAX's short documentary 'Space Junk,' astrophysicist Donald J. Kessler shows audiences that this is a verifiable and observable reality, not only in images from powerful telescopes looking into the night sky but also in our own backyards, here on Earth. Deemed the world's best preserved meteorite impact site, Meteor Crater is a massive hole in northern Arizona just under a mile wide and thought to have been made approximately 50,000 years ago. The nickel-iron rock about 50 meters across that crashed onto our planet was likely caused by a collision with another rock floating aimlessly through space. Impacts like these, whether in the darkness of space or here on Earth, are relatively common, and because they happen frequently, Kessler is worried of another danger.
Kessler is a former NASA scientist who originally proposed a scenario in which the objects orbiting Earth is now so dense that collisions between those object is inevitable and high likely, called the Kessler Syndrome. Affectionately dubbed the "Father of Space Junk," Kessler sees this as a more troubling and dangerous concern than the everyday accidents in the far reaches of space. The reason for this concern is that these objects are man-made, such as communication satellites, the remnants of older equipment and the discarded refuse from rockets. They are in extremely close proximity and circle the planet in an area known as low Earth orbit and geosynchronous orbit. From the view down here, there appears to be little to be concerned about, but from space, the amount of junk makes our planet look like a garbage dump, littered with floating junk.
Tom Wilkinson provides a rather soothing and calming voice to the CG visuals which could otherwise seem a bit unnerving, particularly when the discussion turns to a few known collisions between satellites. Wilkinson mentions that based on Kessler's analysis, each collision — anything from the size of a satellite to a fastening nut — leads to more and smaller floating junk, eventually creating an ever-expanding and dense cloud of space debris forever orbiting our planet. The denser this cloud grows, the more hazardous it will be to launch space shuttle missions. Thankfully, ideas and measures are being taken to one day remedy the situation; it's only a matter of will and the determination to clean up the mess we made, which is part of a larger conservation effort to save our planet.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Image Entertainment brings 'Space Junk 3D' to Blu-ray 3D on a Region Free, BD25 disc inside a clear, eco-elite keepcase. A 2D version of the film is included on the same disc and available in the main menu. At startup, the disc goes directly to a 3D menu screen with options along the bottom, full-motion clips in a smaller screen in the center and music.
A mix of computer-generated animation makes up the bulk of this terrifically impressive 1080p/MVC MPEG-4 encode. Satellites, crash debris, and remnants of rockets orbiting Earth hover across the 1.78:1 frame and appear as if floating in the middle of the living room. When other pieces of junk and moving objects crash into one another, the fragments fly towards the audience, tempting viewers to swap at the air. The tops of rockets pierce the screen with realism, creating some of the coolest 3D gimmick shots around. Live action photography also comes with stunning dimensionality and spatial distance, especially scenes of Meteor Crater in Arizona where the other end of the crater penetrates deep into the far back of the screen.
The rest of the high-def video comes with intensely brilliant contrast levels, allowing for excellent visibility of background activity while still maintaining crisp, clean whites throughout. Details are razor-sharp with distinct fine lines in the little vegetation available in the desert and in the facial complexions of the few people on screen. The tiniest pebble and rock on the ground is plain and lifelike while in the CG visuals, every crevice, panel and the smallest piece of debris is very well-defined and discrete. The color palette is accurately rendered with bold saturation in the primaries. Blacks are rich and true with strong shadow delineation. Sadly, the one thing holding this back from perfection is the constant and pesky presence of aliasing, causing a plainly visible case of stair-stepping in several sequences.
The IMAX short documentary also arrives with a thoroughly enjoyable DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that on occasion immerses audiences with a sense of space junk floating all around. The rear speakers employ the sounds of satellites, voices and debris at various key points throughout with flawless panning that circle around the entire listening area, creating a very satisfying soundfield. Unfortunately, the remainder of the design is a front-heavy presentation where a welcoming soundstage delivers a clean, detailed mid-range with excellent fidelity and rich warmth. Low-bass is deep and impactful, providing a good deal of weight in various scenes. With exceptional channel separation and precise, well-prioritized vocals, the lossless mix is an awesome complement to the 3D video.
Another great IMAX short feature that brings attention to an interesting aspect of our planet, or as in the case of 'Space Junk,' the things outside our planet. Narrated by Tom Wilkinson, the documentary discusses the man-made garbage orbiting Earth, a concern of what to do with the ever-growing debris clouding our planet. The Blu-ray arrives with fantastic if slightly troubled 3D video, a great audio presentation, but a measly assortment of supplements. Nonetheless, IMAX fans and 3D enthusiasts will marvel at the third dimension and gladly add it to their collections.