Top positive review
When The Shuttle Was King
on November 8, 2014
Space exploration has often returned to Earth incredible images not just from the heavens but of the Earth itself. So the pairing of out of this world images with IMAX seems like an ideal match and indeed space themed documentaries have long been a staple of IMAX's output. First premiering in 1985, The Dream Is Alive presents highlights from a year of NASA Space Shuttle missions and does so with IMAX's usual flair.
Having being made at the height of the Space Shuttle program in 1984, The Dream Is Alive is in some respects an interesting historical document for those interested in the history of space exploration. There's interesting behind the scenes footage of the shuttle program including the replacing of the shuttle's all important heat tiles (which would play a role in the tragic demise of the Columbia nearly two decades later) and the escape system astronauts would have (but thankfully never) used in the event of an emergency on the launch pad. There's also of course footage from a number of shuttle missions including footage of the now late Sally Ride as well as a number of including the dramatic recovery of the Solar Max satellite.
What this really captures more than anything else is the pre-Challenger atmosphere that surrounded the shuttle program including its early successes and the optimism that surrounded it. The tragedy of Challenger and the eventual disappointments of the shuttle program had yet to happen. There's something rather both odd and touching about the narration of Walter Cronkite, himself a major proponent and enthusiast of space exploration, at the end talking about how people would soon be living in space and how children would one day be born there. Close to thirty years later with the shuttle program over, the ISS soaring over our heads and the recent disasters of both NASA and Virgin space vehicles, the dream is alive but it seems as far away as ever.
Of course being IMAX, the visuals are all important. Filmed over the course of a number of different shuttle missions, The Dream Is Alive presents some incredible footage from those missions. There's dramatic sequences of the aforementioned satellite releases and captures ranging from Solar Max to the Long Duration Exposure Facility (LDEF) satellite. There's also some incredible point of view footage such as the opening sequence which gives the viewer the impression of what it's like to be inside the shuttle as it's landing and the aforementioned launch pad escape system. Perhaps the most dramatic footage though is of the Earth itself seen from space, bringing to mind the later IMAX space documentary Blue Planet.
Overall then, The Dream Is Alive remains a memorable addition to the IMAX space documentaries. While it has of course dated in its optimistic hopes for the shuttle program, it nevertheless presents a stirring picture of the shuttle program at its height. Thanks to the IMAX footage, it also remains a visual feast as well even on the small screen. For those interested or fascinated by space exploration, this is a must-see.