Release Date(s)2017 (October 3, 2017)
Studio(s)Crossing the Line Productions (PBS Distribution)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: A
In late 1977, as the world was obsessed with a space adventure set in a galaxy far, far away, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory launched a truly epic real-life space adventure of their own: The Voyager program. An audacious plan from the start, the goal was to explore a virtually unknown region of the outer Solar System, including the gas giant planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, using twin Voyager spacecraft. The technology was simple – as one scientist notes in this film, the computing power of the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft was equivalent to that of an automobile key fob you might now have in your pocket. What’s more, realizing that these two spacecraft would eventually leave the Solar System and cruise out across our galaxy for billions of years, the project’s scientists – among them Frank Drake and Carl Sagan – decided to include a message to any extraterrestrials who might one day find the probes: phonograph records containing audio recordings and pictures representing all of Humanity. Ultimately, the Voyager program was a smashing success. The Farthest is the story of how these missions came to be, the many obstacles that had to be overcome, and the program’s legacy, as told by the very scientists who worked on the project.
The documentary approach is wonderful here, featuring all-new interviews with at least a dozen project scientists and others, intercut with vintage NASA footage, and modern visual effects illustrating the mission. The film’s soundtrack is a great sampling of pop and rock music covering the whole expanse of the project’s timeline. The result is an experiential documentary, one that’s as moving as it is informative, by turns moody, evocative, and thrilling. The Voyager program was a stunning scientific achievement. The Farthest conveys the human experience of the program beautifully.
PBS’s Blu-ray release presents the film in its original 1.78:1 broadcast aspect ratio in full native 1080p HD. It looks gorgeous on disc, with great contrast, color, and detail. Audio is included in an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix that’s mostly front loaded but does offer some nice atmospheric fill from the surrounds. Clarity is excellent, the soundstage is wide, and the film’s music sounds absolutely terrific – full, clean, and with solid bass. This Blu-ray’s only flaw is a minor one: At least on my system, the Blu-ray menu has music that’s full of pops and static. Don’t worry though, the actual program audio is fine. There are optional English subtitles on the disc if you need them.
There’s only one extra here, but it’s a good one: The Second Genesis: The Search for Life Beyond Earth bonus documentary (HD – 18:26), which features planetary scientist Carolyn Porco’s fascination with the idea of finding life elsewhere in our Solar System and designing a NASA mission to find it. This film too, though shorter, is wonderful. I’ve long been enthusiastic about, and a supporter of, the manned and unmanned exploration of space. And I’m fascinated by the idea that some of the moons of our own outer Solar System – particularly Saturn’s tiny Enceladus – have vast under-ice oceans and quite possibly the conditions necessary for life to arise independently of Earth. Is it there? What would it be like to explore its surface and subsurface? We have the power to do so in our lifetime and to answer such questions. I certainly hope we try.
As documentaries about spaceflight go, manned or unmanned, The Farthest: Voyage in Space has become one of my favorites. Writer/director Emer Reynolds has taken a straightforward but also subtle and artistic approach to this film, that outlines the subject matter in excellent technical detail and then colors it in with the full range of thoughts and emotions of those who were involved. It’s lovely viewing and highly recommended.
- Bill Hunt