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New Omnimax film, ‘A Beautiful Planet,’ takes viewer to space in order to see Earth in its entirety

A view of the Earth from the International Space Station
A Beautiful Planet | IMAX
A view of the Earth from the International Space Station

The idiom “you can’t see the forest for the trees,” takes on a more grandiose meaning in the new Omnimax film, “A Beautiful Planet,” opening today at the Saint Louis Science Center.

The film takes viewers to the International Space Station, with cameras operated by astronauts themselves, to see what Earth looks like from outer space.

Credit Alex Heuer | St. Louis Public Radio
Toni Myers and James Niehouse, the director and director of photography for "A Beautiful Planet."

“It’s a beautiful planet, as the title says, and sometimes it is hard to see that unless you get away from the ground and you see it as a complete entity and a whole planet,” director and producer Toni Myers told St. Louis on the Air contributor Steve Potter. “Then you see how wonderful it is.”

Of course, while there is beauty, the movie also exposes how much destruction humans have wrought upon the planet.

“You can see the smoke plumes for hundreds of miles above the fires in the Amazon basin,” Myers said. “You can look straight down and see the deforestation tracks, where the dark carpet of forest has been carved in straight lines for hundreds of miles. What you see is that those smoke plumes are spewing stuff into the atmosphere and it is causing the temperature to change along with the fossil fuels you see so much.”

The film also exposes pollution over China, California’s drought and dwindling water supplies.

Jennifer Lawrence narrates the movie, which took 15 months to shoot at the International Space Station. The director as well as James Niehouse, the director of photography, trained three crews of astronauts to collect audio and images with Canon EOS cameras from their crewmates at the station.

“They’re the smartest people,” Niehouse said of the easy training process. “Probably the smartest people — on and off the planet.”

The astronauts collected 11.5 terabytes of data during the shooting process, which gave Niehouse and Myers plenty to work with. They also had access to the astronauts by email and telephone. This was the first time these luxuries were available to the directors, who have produced seven films about space together.

“They actually have a phone system on board the station they can call you and your phone rings and the caller ID comes up SPACE STATION,” Niehouse said.

Credit A Beautiful Planet | IMAX
A view of the earth from the International Space Station at night.

“The first calls, there’s nothing like that first call,” Myers said. “There you are in your nightie and then ‘Hi! This is the Space Station calling.’”

There are remarkably few special effects used in the film. In fact, there is only a total of 15 animated seconds. Everything else came from the astronauts’ cameras.

“This film, more than any of the other ones, has opened my eyes to the fact we’re in a very unique place in the universe, in this galaxy,” Niehouse said. “We’ve got a special place to live here and we’ve got to not screw it up more than we already are. We have to take care of it better.”

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region. 

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Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.

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