Release Date(s)2015 (June 7, 2016)
Studio(s)Giant Screen Films/K2 (Shout! Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: C+
[Editor’s Note: As Ultra HD Blu-ray is a new format, much is yet to be settled in terms of establishing a proper display calibration baseline for evaluating UHD content. What follows is our best attempt to offer specific impressions on the format’s A/V quality improvements given those constraints. Note that the display used for this review is Samsung’s UN65JS9500, which is compliant with the full HDR10/Rec.2020 “Ultra HD Premium” specification, driven by Samsung’s UBD-K8500 Ultra HD Blu-ray player.]
Directed by Mark Krenzien and narrated by actor Patrick Stewart, Journey to Space is a large format documentary film that was originally produced for exhibition in IMAX theaters. It documents NASA’s latest efforts in the manned exploration of space. Throughout the course of the film’s 42 minutes, we meet some of the key people working to make this exploration a reality, including NASA astronauts Chris Ferguson (who flew on the final Space Shuttle mission) and Serena Auñón (who is currently preparing for future SLS/Orion missions), and NASA project manager Lindsay Aitchison (who’s working to develop an advanced space suit for use on the surface of Mars). As the documentary progresses, we get a great look back at the Space Shuttle program, as well as a look at the construction of (and life aboard) the International Space Station, and we get a good peek at the development of NASA’s next-generation spacecraft and systems that are designed to take astronauts back to the Moon, to deep space destinations, and on to Mars. We also learn about some of the NewSpace companies helping in this effort (including Bigelow, which is developing an inflatable habitat module that could house astronauts during a flight to Mars), we see astronauts training for an asteroid mission in NASA’s underwater NEEMO laboratory (off the Florida Keys), and we’re offered a glimpse at what a possible manned NASA Mars mission might look like (sometime in the 2030s, if all goes well). Journey to Space is a fine and entertaining tribute to what NASA has accomplished so far... and what it hopes to accomplish next.
Interestingly, Shout! Factory’s UHD disc offers you a choice between two 4K viewing options, depending on your display capabilities – one with High Dynamic Range and one without. What’s great about this is that it allows you to compare the two… and see just what a big difference HDR makes. The image quality on both is excellent. The footage seen in Journey to Space was shot in many native resolutions and formats, including 65mm/15perf IMAX film, 4K, 5.5K and 6K digital (via Red Dragon), 10K and 8K digital still images (including Hubble Space Telescope imagery and astronaut time-lapse photography of the Earth from ISS), and regular 1080p HD footage. The IMAX film was scanned digitally at a stunning 11K resolution (10928 x 8192) and includes much newly shot footage, as well as clips from previous IMAX space productions (like Hubble, Space Station 3D, Mission to Mir, Destiny in Space, and The Dream Is Alive). The added resolution does tend to reveal subtle differences in clarity and age-related issues in the older IMAX footage, but the quality remains high. The final film is presented in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio, so the ultra high resolution imagery fills the screen, with the occasional bit of regular HD imagery window-boxed over a themed background (in the included Blu-ray 3D version, this window floats nicely in front of the background, though the effect is lost in 2D). The overall presentation is fantastic, with much eye-candy here for space enthusiasts. I was particularly struck by the IMAX footage of the launch of Shuttle Atlantis on the final mission of the Space Shuttle program (STS-135). As the vehicle clears the pad, you can actually see the Tyvek plastic covers on the Shuttle’s RCS thruster ports shredding and falling away around the orbiter (as they’re meant to do) – something I’ve never noticed before, even in HD launch video. Of course, there’s lots of footage of the Earth as seen from orbit, and footage shot aboard the ISS, as well as new CG imagery depicting early plans for a future manned Mars mission. The HDR adds just that additional measure of realistic visual pop to elements like shinny metallic space station modules, the subtle shadings of the Earth’s surface and atmosphere, and other footage. Note that audio is available on the 4K disc in a great English Dolby Atmos (core 7.1 Dolby TrueHD) mix that delivers terrific dynamic range, with bass that will shake the room during the launch sequences. This is a documentary, or course, so don’t expect a lively surround mix, but there are some nice placement effects and the Atmos height channels are put to good use, especially during those shuttle launch sequences. There’s also French and Spanish 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio options for those who may need them. Subtitles are included in English SDH only.
The 4K disc also includes a short Behind the Scenes featurette (4K – 5:03), a video image Gallery (4K – 1:30) and trailers for Journey to Space and the five other IMAX films that are coming to 4K from Shout! (also in 4K, including The Last Reef, Wonders of the Arctic, Rocky Mountain Express, Humpback Whales, and Flight of the Butterflies – click on the title links for oure reviews of each). There’s also a Blu-ray 3D disc in the packaging that includes both 2D and 3D presentations on the same disc, plus the same extras.
[Editor’s Note: Given that nearly all 4K releases are multi-disc sets, with the extras often included on separate BD discs, our extras grades for these 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray reviews will reflect the bonus content across all discs in the set.]
Journey to Space represents Shout! Factory’s first offering on the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray format and, while it’s probably not for everyone, I enjoyed every minute of it. The inclusion of a bonus Blu-ray 3D version (with 2D on the same disc) also makes this a decent value. One thing’s for sure: I can’t wait to see more 65mm IMAX footage presented on this format. Recommended, particularly for IMAX/documentary fans and space enthusiasts.
- Bill Hunt