This week’s Monday Short is a departure from the kinds of films the series usually spotlights. First, it has significantly more live-action footage than we tend to include. At 27 minutes, it’s also the longest short that’s appeared in this space. But the 50th anniversary of the moon landing means that space has been on my mind, and Universe does an exceptional job of depicting it.
It isn’t a 100% accurate film. A lot has changed in our scientific knowledge in the 70 years since it was made, so Pluto is no longer considered a planet, and it isn’t “reasonably certain” that there’s plant life on Mars. But just because the science doesn’t hold up doesn’t mean the rest of the film isn’t worth watching.
For one thing, it’s a special effects marvel. The animators at the NFB went all out in making the most realistic recreations they could manage of our solar system and beyond. Their work was impressive enough that Stanley Kubrick reportedly used it as inspiration for sequences in his classic 2001, and it still has a haunting quality that only analogue effects can really manage.
For another, it still has a sense of wonder to it that is hard to recapture in modern documentaries. Space is still a mystery to us, but we’ve seen so much more of it in the second half of the 20th century that it’s hard to imagine the wonder it would’ve held in 1960, almost a decade before the lunar landing, and two years before Kennedy even announced the goal of putting a man on the moon.
Granted, to a certain set of eyes, Universe will be slow-paced, wide-eyed and old-fashioned. But looked at in the right light, it’s a chance to see space through the eyes of a previous generation, rendered with as much craft and grandeur as they could muster. And in that light, it’s as brilliant as ever.
dir: Roman Kroitor & Colin Low
syn: This 1960 documentary recreates the universe as it would appear to a voyager barreling through space. This film was among the sources used by Kubrick in 2001: A Space Odyssey.