2001: A Space Odyssey on the big screen. The real big screen.

Original promo for 2001: A Space Odyssey features artwork of Space Station V by artist Robert McCall.

Original promo for 2001: A Space Odyssey features artwork of Space Station V by artist Robert McCall.

Last week I had the rare opportunity to view director Stanley Kubrick’s classic space film in 70mm at the Indiana State Museum’s IMAX theater. The screening was part of IndyFilmFest’s Roving Cinema series. The film played to an at-capacity crowd of mostly film buffs and college students.

Yes, it was an intellectual nerd fest.

2001 (1968) was originally filmed in 70mm, a common film size in the 1950s and 60s. The 70mm “flavor” for Kubrick’s work was Cinerama. You can learn more about the specific format here. This particular print was a restored version struck in 2001.

Most movie theaters today screen films in digital format, even the IMAX theaters. That technology continues to mature, especially with colors and brightness. Analog film and projectors still offer superior image quality, but the technology is expensive and rapidly being replaced.

This print was not a true IMAX-optimized film, just 70mm. Still, the image was 70 feet wide. The film did have some artifacts such as grain and scratches and a few slight audio pops, but overall it was in good shape and played well on the IMAX’s six-story screen.

Director Kubrick was known for his attention to details, and this was clear in the 70mm version. The space station docking and lunar shuttle sequences were especially stunning. With 70mm, it was easier to see the people in the windows of the station and the moon base. Set detail — especially warning labels and company logos — were also more obvious. It was a good display of Kubrick’s world-building skills. One could even read the instructions for the zero gravity toilet on the lunar shuttle.

And seeing the monolith on a six-story screen was pretty intimidating, too.

For me, the greatest strength of 2001 is the craftsmanship. I found the plot thin and slow, but I realize Kubrick wanted to make space travel seem boring and monotonous. I’ve got several books about the film’s making, including the latest from Piers Bizony.

The film – and its under-appreciated sequel 2010: The Year We Make Contact — are among my top favorite movies. A small monolith and moon bus model sits atop my DVD collection.

The Indianapolis State Museum IMAX is one of my favorite IMAX theaters. Comfortable seats and often less crowded, there’s little comparison to the “IMAX light” digital theaters in Indianapolis suburbs. Indy IMAX uses the original analog IMAX projectors. The theater is 20 years old. As of Jan. 25, the theater was undergoing renovations to add digital equipment for more screenings of modern films (press release).

Awakening: Thawing out the themes of Buck Rogers

Opening sequence to Buck Rogers featuring NASA footage of Apollo missions.

Opening sequence to Buck Rogers featuring NASA footage of Apollo missions.

Universal Studios originally planned Buck Rogers in the 25th Century as a series of TV movies. After the Battlestar Galactica TV pilot became a hit movie overseas, the studio chose to launch Buck into space with a theatrical version. The movie was successful and made about $21 million in North America, according to Wikipedia. Networks took notice, and soon Buck Rogers made the jump to a weekly TV series on NBC.

To start the series off, the studio fleshed out the theatrical  version into a two-part pilot episode, Awakening. The differences are minor, however, and the same themes are woven throughout both stories.

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Davis on DVD: Buck Rogers In The 25th Century

Nicely done fan wallpaper art from George Spigot's blog captures the essence of the series.

Nicely done fan wallpaper art from George Spigot’s blog captures the essence of the series. More can be found at https://georgespigot.wordpress.com/tag/buck-rogers-in-the-25th-century/.

The year is 1987, and NASA launches the last of America’s deep space probes. In a freak mishap, Ranger 3 and its pilot, Captain William “Buck” Rogers, are blown out of their trajectory into an orbit which freezes his life support systems, and returns Buck Rogers to Earth, 500 years later.

Buck Rogers In The 25th Century is a favorite TV series of my childhood. The show, starring Gil Gerard and Erin Gray, lasted two seasons from 1979-1981.

Fortunately, the series is on DVD. I snagged the complete series a few years ago. Universal has recently released each season separately. Even if you have the original box set, Buck fans may want to buy the second season for a special Easter Egg. More on that in another blog post later.

The series is often dismissed has 70s and 80s kitsch because of wacky costumes, cheesy sets, silly humor, disco music, stunt casting, and scenery-chewing guest stars.

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There’s more to NASA than rocket launches

xploration Flight Test-1.

An artist’s impression of the first Orion spacecraft in orbit attached to a Delta IV Upper Stage during Exploration Flight Test-1. Image Credit: NASA

Many are excited for the test launch of the Orion spacecraft this December.  More than 3,000 people applied to be NASA guests at the Kennedy Space Center as a part of the Orion NASA Social. I wasn’t selected, but I congratulate those that were and will follow their experiences on social media.

There’s still time to apply for the NASA socials being held concurrently at the different centers around the nation. I encourage anyone to apply.  The deadline is 5 p.m. Nov. 2. Link: http://www.nasa.gov/social-orion-multicenter/#.VFZmLb7fY0s. Good luck!

UPDATE: Registration is now closed. Good luck to all that applied!

NASA hosts these meetings of social media users this in order to further communicate with the public. It’s an unique solution of bypassing a jaded professional media that doesn’t cover space issues.

I’ve been fortunate enough to witness two rocket launches as a part of a NASA social: the Juno Jupiter space probe from Cape Canaveral and the replacement Landsat from Vandenberg Air Force Base. The launches were amazing.

Living in the midwest, it can be tough to make arrangements to see a rocket launch. For this reason, and because I have already observed two launches, I don’t apply to many of the launch-based NASA socials.

NASA is a big organization and has different missions at its nation-wide centers (listing), ranging from life sciences to aeronautic research. Like my headline mentions, NASA does more than just launch rockets from Florida.

My visits to the centers have been phenomenal. I enjoyed getting a behind the scenes look at the labs, workshops and training facilities. My two favorites have been the Goldstone Deep Space Network Complex, and the Dryden (now Armstrong) Flight Research Center. The Great Moonbuggy Race at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center was a blast, too. In all cases, I enjoyed talking with the staff, scientists, and seeing demonstrations and technology up close. None of them had rocket launches on the schedule.

Some are of the opinion that once you attend an NASA social event, you should not apply again in order to increase the odds that others will be selected. I understand the sentiment. I add that if you have only witnessed a rocket launch and consider yourself done, you may be missing a bigger picture.

Keep in mind that an application doesn’t mean you will be selected. I’m pretty sure NASA attempts to diversify its audience reach, and they should. Sure, I’ve been disappointed at times but never upset or … gosh forbid … angry. I realize I am not entitled a spot and I’m always honored when selected.

Bottom line, I know that if I am not attending, I’m delighted that someone else is learning about NASA wonders.  You could be that person. For future NASA socials, keep a eye on the web page or follow along on Twitter at twitter.com/nasasocial.






Album Review: I hear you, Major Tom

Seeking Major Tom

Seeking Major TomWilliam Shatner’s third studio album – Seeking Major Tom – has nowhere near the emotional resonance of his last album Has Been, but it is a fun listen.

The concept album shines with arrangements of space-themed covers, including David Bowie’s Space Oddity and Elton John’s Rocket Man. Adding polish to the album is a slew of guest artists, from Cheryl Crow and Lyle Lovett to Peter Frampton. Shatner can chew the scenery and the microphone, but the musical talent backing him up prevents the album from hitting the Moon with a thud.

Favorite tracks of mine include covers of U2’s In A Little While with Lyle Lovett and Pink Floyd’s Learning to Fly with Edgar Froese (Tangerine Dream). The album’s only original track, Struggle, is perhaps the most genuine artistic work in the lineup and packs an emotional wallop.

If not a fan of Shatner or spoken word genre, I’d recommend passing on this launch. Otherwise, strap yourself in for an entertaining ride.

NASA motivates life changes for the better

My wife and I have been fortunate enough to be involved with NASATweetups.

Our first foray was with the last shuttle launch, STS 135, at Kennedy Space Center on July 7-8, 2011. You can read about our experiences on my wife’s blog. I wasn’t officially part of the Tweetup. Instead,  I and her boys watched the launch from a boat.

The event was life changing for all (Julie’s blog entry). Julie and I had been dating for roughly about 8 years. The end of the shuttle era gave us a kick in the pants to contemplate our next step.

By the time I attended the Juno Mission NASA Tweetup on August 4-5, we had decided to combine our two households and get married.

We moved into our dream home in October. During one of the first days in our new house, I proposed by using a space shuttle Lego kit (the Shuttle Expedition kit 10231) The robot arm held the ring. We were married on 11/11/11.

Our passion for space — specifically the Farscape television series — originally brought us together many moons ago. Now it continues to strengthen our relationship.

This year, Julie attended the Tweetup even (read her blog entry) on the unveiling of the proposed budget for NASA. She had a good time at the conference and touring NASA HQ in Washington, D.C.

Our honeymoon — a very brief one — came in the form of attending the Glenn Research Center’s first Tweetup. Yes, we spent our honeymoon in Cleveland in March.

I’ll create separate pages about my NASA Tweetup experiences (Juno and Glenn) in the future. I have plenty of content and thoughts to share. Both experiences were deeply moving and helped me feel young and optimistic again. This was something much needed after the tragic death of my mother in a car accident in July 2009. In a way, NASA saved my soul.

In the meantime, Julie and I continue to look for ways to share the wonders of space with each other and our children.