DIRECTOR: Graeme Ferguson

Hail Columbia!, not to be mistaken with the song of the same name, is a relatively early IMAX film, charting the inaugural flight of the fated Columbia space shuttle. Of course, back in 1982, when this documentary was produced, Columbia had 21 years to grow, thrive and help create a legacy for the space shuttle programme. I was drawn to this film because of this, because it obviously knew nothing of its future, nothing of the impending Challenger disaster just four years away, nor its own untimely end in 2002.

So, I wanted to see a time capsule, a film which looked in innocence and optimism at the grand future that the shuttle programme could provide and in a way, that’s what I got. Talk of space stations, intergalactic telescopes and medicines to cultivated in zero gravity, all of which would happen. But it also dwelled, quite poignantly, on the risks of faulty or displaced heat tiles and showed the damaged tiles on the ships outer hull after its maiden launch. This, to me, was much more telling of the future of this craft than anyone had intended back in the early 80’s, I’m sure.

But like most IMAX documentaries, the term ‘documentary’ is misplaced. Its 35 minutes running time is perfect to show off space travel and the vast NASA infrastructure to the masses on the massive IMAX screens and that is the director’s primary goal, big and loud.

And when the film was big and loud, it was great, but it seemed that more than half of its running time was taken up with smaller images, boxes scattered across mostly black screen. This is supposed to emphasise the large screen action when you cut back to the full image but I believe that it was simply that this early IMAX effort had more of its footage shot on conventional cameras rather than IMAX’s native 65mm negative. Now of course, this can be compensated for by DNR but back then, no such luck.

Overall, it was wasn’t very engaging, the sound quality wasn’t up to later films, such as 1985’s The Dream Is Alive or 1992’s Fires Of Kuwait, and the plotting and direction was plodding too. Not one of the best films by far, but for anyone with a taste for the ironic, history and space travel, give it whirl, it won’t be a total loss.

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