VOD film review: Spaceship Earth
Ivan Radford | On 15, Jul 2020
Director: Matt Wolf
Cast: John Allen, Tony Burgess, Jane Goodall
Watch Spaceship Earth online in the UK: Curzon Home Cinema / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Virgin Movies / Google Play / Sky Store
Eight experts locked in a gigantic dome in the middle of desert. It sounds like the beginnings of a new Channel 5 reality TV series, but it was actually a very serious scientific experiment in the early 1990s. The aim? To test out what conditions might be like in a colony on the moon or Mars, and determine any challenges that might arise.
It wasn’t a NASA-endorsed operation, and that fact alone made for a gruelling challenge – it’s telling that Matt Wolf’s documentary takes a long time just to get to the experiment itself, as it puts all the parts together. It’s a fascinating story, one that’s been larger forgotten by the media, even as we begin to consider notions of colonisation in the not-so-distant future. For that reason alone, it’s more than worth tuning in, as the bizarre account of this ambitious initiative is stuffed with interesting facts – right down to the fact that the biodome was called “Biosphere 2”, because Biosphere 1 is technically Earth.
That kind of cute detail is a testament to the optimism on display from the people behind the biodome. They engineered it to be self-sustaining and eco-friendly, generating its own water, crops and mater – all powered by a heart and hope that lies at the centre of all noble scientific quests.
But over two years these experts were locked away in that three-acre building, that hope was challenged by the real world, with criticisms that it was a cult, or that it was a stunt, that it wasn’t transparent, that it was an expensive white elephant, and more. Copious archive footage edited smoothly into 90 minutes gives us a heart-warming glimpse of the context leading up to the project, as well as the bitter ways in which things gradually turned sour, less because of the human dynamics – a reality TV classic – and more because of the scientific advisors that come in and meddle, squabble and undermine, as rising CO2 levels cause problems.
The juxtaposition with figures from today’s Wall Street-driven world, which sees its potential for some kind of tourist attraction, cements Spaceship Earth’s almost alien snapshot of an unremembered, uncynical endeavour. The result is a charmingly earnest and sincere reminder of what can be achieved with the right conviction and principles – and what can be learnt even from the most noble failures.