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The Planets - An HD Odyssey [1/29/2010 02:15:00 AM]:
It’s award season and I’ll soon be posting reviews of mainstream studio fare, so I want to post a quick note about an original film commissioned by the Houston Symphony, and made in Houston. The Planets - An HD Odyssey recently debuted to 4 sold out performances in its 3 day run at Jones Hall, and it was a revelation. Tonight the Houston Symphony is on tour with the film at Carnegie Hall in New York City for more sold out performances showing the brilliant HD photography that NASA’s $20 billion a year buys. (give or take a billion)

Filmmaker Duncan Copp previously directed episodes of PBS TV’s Nova, and my favorite film about NASA In the Shadow of the Moon. Although the very nature of the film is experimental, Copp’s use of split screens and a 3D animation process seemed gimmicky and even a bit home computer-ish at first. But moments later the scale of the project swallowed all of my apprehension. The music, composed 105 years ago in England by Gustav Holst, brought to mind the maligned word that only online critics use….. cinematic. I apologize for the term. But as the filmmaker’s camera zooms across a red Martian landscape the symphony distinctly sounds like John Williams’ familiar Star Wars Theme. I couldn’t help it. If there were ever a time to stoop to using the term “cinematic”, this was it.

The rest of the planets are mapped and photographed less comprehensively than Mars for obvious reasons. But the symphony is riveting. I didn’t “feel small” while watching these incredible photographs bring the formerly static planets to life. I felt slightly disoriented. We’re used to seeing the rings of Saturn and the deserts of Mars, but I’ve never seen a collection like this and I never knew that photographs of this detail existed. Sometimes, when confronted with a close-up, I wondered what exactly I was looking at. That is how detailed these photographs are. They look like nothing I have ever seen before. I could not find a reference point to link the images to my vocabulary about the planets. I was stunned speechless. That's how far out into space NASA has gone without us knowing, and that is what makes this piece so special. I remember hoping that members of Congress would see this movie because I believed it could convince them to fund NASA further into the future than they are likely to. I applaud the Houston Symphony and their sponsors for creating what could be a life sustaining work for NASA. They have been doing great work for the past 25 years, but unfortunately only manned flight makes headlines around the world. The unmanned work is cheaper, safer, and able to go deeper into space. This film and this performance showed the glory of NASA’s otherwise unheralded work.

While watching, I couldn’t help but take pride in the film, the symphony, and in NASA. For the rest of this weekend the tony confines of Carnegie Hall will be filled with Houston Musicians accompanying a film made in Houston. I can’t wait to read the reviews in the New York newspapers. Look for them to be posted as links hopefully this weekend.

This was my second visit to the Houston Symphony’s Sound Plus Vision series. I reviewed their resurrection of a silent film classic last season, and I’ll post more later this year for the Alternative Cinema Houston blog.

In February look for another original film made partly in Houston, and with a New York Connection, when So Percussion comes to Diverseworks for a series of live performances of their percussive ensemble while a film showing Houston and other urban landscapes plays in the background.

www.houstonsymphony.org www.nasa.gov www.diverseworks.org

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