This is the sobering yet vivid vision of Blue Planet, opening today at the Franklin Institute's Omniverse Theater.
Blue Planet attempts to show how Earth's various climatic, geological and biological systems are intertwined to provide the conditions for life.
It takes the viewer from volcanic vents 10,000 feet under the ocean to a perch in the space shuttle 200 miles above the Earth's surface.
All these images are projected on a four-story, domed screen using the IMAX system, which employs film four times larger than that used in the typical feature film and a 56-speaker sound system. IMAX is capable of taking away both your breath and your stomach.
The star of Blue Planet is the footage of Earth filmed during seven space- shuttle missions. Only 300 people have actually seen the planet from outer space, and Blue Planet offers the best opportunity for the rest of us to view Earth with an astronaut's eye.
The striking contrast of massive blue oceans and swirling white clouds; the dance of lightning from cloud top to cloud top; the luminescence of the atmosphere as it traps the light of the sun - these are the images brought before us on the Omniverse Theater's big screen.
Perhaps the only criticism of Blue Planet is that it tries to do too much. The film not only goes from the ocean depths to outer space, it takes us to Africa, South America, Alaska and San Francisco, while trying to explain the geological principles of plate tectonics and earthquakes, outlining concepts of climatology and weather, touching on issues of ecological balance and dealing with atmospheric chemistry and meteorite showers. And it does all this in little more than 40 minutes. Some may feel bombarded by the stream of ideas and information racing past at intergalactic speed.
Nevertheless, the big picture of the planet remains a compelling anchor for the film. Most sobering are the visible scars we are gouging on the face of the Earth.
From space, silt-choked rivers, victims of poor conservation practices, are clearly visible in the United States, Madagascar and China. Huge clouds of smoke from the burning of the Amazon rain forests hang over South Amrica.
If one wonders precisely how much fossil fuel we burn and how much energy we use, one only has to view the nighttime globe from space. Virtually the entire outline of the United States and most of its major cities are illuminated, as is Europe and a good chunk of Asia.
The ultimate message of the film is that our actions have now reached proportions that visibly threaten the Earth. With its big film, big screen and big sound, Blue Planet offers the most sweeping vision of the Earth most of us will ever see.
BLUE PLANET * * * *
Produced by Graeme Ferguson; written by Toni Myers; directed by Ben Burtt; photography by shuttle astronauts; music by Maribeth Solomon and Micky Erbe; an IMAX film by the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum & Lockheed Corp., in cooperation with NASA.
Running time: 40 mins.
Showing at: Omniverse Theater of the Franklin Institute.