DVD: Voyager Odyssey (1977–1989), The (1990)

March 13, 2014 | By


VoyagerOdysseyFilm: Good

Transfer: Very Good / Extras: (none)

Label:  Image Entertainment

Region: 1 (NTSC)

Released:  March 28, 2000

Genre:  Documentary / Astronomy

Synopsis: Travel with NASA’s Voyager probes during their flights between 1977-1989.

Special Features:  (none)




Billed as “an interplanetary music video experience,” director Don Barrett’s saga of the Voyager I and II space probes up to their known 1989 travel coordinates is a an intriguing concept that’s aged severely over the past 20 years, largely due to a mixed bag of animation that varies from facile to cutting edge (circa 1990).

Borrowing the use of elegant classical music from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Barrett’s structured his doc to follow the paths of the two Voyager probes from lift-off to fly-bys of the planets beyond the Earth, incorporating NASA stills, vintage illustrations, original and archival animation, and brief captions demarcating the key points of each planetary and moon approach, with the occasional factoid.

Voyager I was launched on September 5, 1977, and its purpose was to gather images and data from Jupiter and Saturn (plus their numerous moons) before flying off into the northern spectrum of our solar system. Its sister craft, Voyager II, was launched August 20, 1977, and similarly gathered follow-up data and images of Jupiter and Saturn, plus Uranus, Neptune, and each planet’s collection of weird moons.

Both probes continue to function and relay data back to Earth, and next to the Hubble Space telescope, they’re probably the most bang NASA’s ever received for Big Science dollars.

One would think Barrett would’ve mined NASA’s treasure trove of images, but the amount of photos is fairly limited, as are animations of the planets. By the time the doc reaches its own end with Neptune, we’re finally allowed to see a planet’s full revolution; prior efforts are primordial computer animation, often glimpsed from an orbiting moon.

Groups of animation were handled by different companies, so the level of detail is supremely erratic. The magnetic fields of each planet is nicely drawn out in 3D style wireframes, whereas the Voyager probes are either early 3D CGI, or just flat stills animated to move or pivot across the screen. The same happens for the planets, with their background star patterns frozen; either the talent pool was variable in capabilities, or the doc’s budget was quite limited, because the technical flaws of some sequences are amusingly comedic.

The lack of narration mandates a fluid music track with occasional sound effects, and the classical extracts are well-chosen to reflect the mood and loneliness of the traveling crafts. The chapters and the doc’s overall running time is also catered to a TV airing, but more visual details could’ve been used to better enhance the more mystical aspects of the first planetary fly-bys.

Unlike older and more dramatic docs such as the NFB’s Universe (1960), Voyager Odyssey, while only 20+ years old and using digital sound and video computer graphics, has devolved into a piece of space ephemera not unlike old filmstrip presentations. It’s quaint, mildly informative, but lacks visual and factual depth for even minor self-edification. It’s musical recordings and selections are noteworthy, though, and encompass Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra, Vaugh Williams’ Symphony #7 (Sinfonia in Antarctica), Strauss’ The Blue Danube Waltz, Mysterious Mountain by Alan Hovhaness, the familiar and still oft-used extracts from Khatchaturian’s Gayanne, Liszt’s Les Preludes, and Respighi’s The Pines of Rome.



© 2014 Mark R. Hasan



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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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