Deep Sky (IMAX) – Film Review

Space! The final frontier. This is the voyage of the James Webb Space Telescope. It’s 13 billion year mission: to explore deep space to help us better understand the nature of the universe. Where we all came from, how it all happened and if there is the possibility of alien life existing out there.

Deep Sky is the first new documentary to grace Melbourne’s giant IMAX screen in 2024. Directed by two time Oscar nominated filmmaker Nathaniel Kahn, the feature chronicles the development, launch and first amazing images of NASA‘s new state of the art telescope. The project is named in honour of James E. Webb, administrator of NASA from 1961 to 1968. Appointed by President Kennedy himself, Webb oversaw the earliest American missions into space including the Apollo moon landing. Keep that in mind as the film, oddly, omits this key detail.

Told largely in two parts, Deep Sky focuses on just how important an operation this was to the people of NASA. First we see the technical side and hear from the people who have spent the last two decades building and refining this 10 billion dollar dream, just how much it has meant to them, how delicate every step of the way has been, and we see their elation at the mission’s success.

In the second half, we’re treated to some of the most stunningly detailed images of space ever seen, giving us a view into the cosmos like never before with undeniably beautiful shots that audiences may even remember having seen in the news over the last 2-3 years. Oscar winning actress, Michelle Williams narrates this documentary and explains what this collection of stars, smears and clouds actually tell us about our galaxy and the innumerable others beyond that.

I’ve made no secret of my fondness for IMAX documentaries and Deep Sky is definitely one with a difference. The film features much more still images of space rather than the usual macro photography, landscapes or underwater photography. There is no 3D aspect either to Deep Sky unlike many other IMAX documentaries, however the film is still awe-inspiring, nonetheless. 

While informative, the wonder it instils in the viewer in some way comes from seeing just how little we know about the universe. But with just the first few images received from the James Webb Space Telescope, we can see the possibilities that this new tool grants us. We’re shown a region as mapped out by the Hubble Space Telescope years ago and the updated views that the James Webb Space Telescope gives us today. Light from over billions of years showing star systems as they are born and as they die.

Most interesting was the concept of the study of “exoplanets”, planets beyond our solar system. We’ve been discovering evidence of other planets for over 100 years but only very recently have we been able to confirm their existence. The James Webb Space Telescope is not only able to find more exoplanets but it grants us the ability to determine their composition and potential for life like never before.

If there is a disappointing side to this amazing work, it is that it feels its length, or rather its shortness, more than other recent IMAX documentaries I have seen. IMAX documentaries are generally 40 minutes in length, the film format itself being as cumbersome as it is. Perhaps it was the 2 part structure or maybe it’s just that Deep Sky is so interesting that it feels like the presentation is over way too soon. But to the project’s credit, NASA keeps us up to date with the latest incredible images taken by the James Webb Space Telescope. For anyone who wants to see more, there are new satellite images just a web search away.

Deep Sky kept me more enthralled than some of my favourite IMAX documentaries. The work of over 10,000 individuals from 14 different countries have gone into the James Webb Space Telescope. Nathaniel Kahn presents us an at times breathtaking glimpse into this technological marvel, one of which is sure to inspire the next generation of stargazers as we all wonder what new discoveries lie in our future.

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