Montreal’s Space for Life Planetarium appears in the distance ‘like an overturned ice bucket’ according to my shooting partner, Yehuda. Its polished chrome exterior is futuristic and even out of this world, which is fitting for what lies inside. Located next to the Montreal Tower and Olympic Stadium, this center is a space dedicated to space exploration. Though there are plenty of games and learning modules inside, the domed theatres are where the real fun begins.
If you’ve never been to a planetarium, visiting Montreal’s Planetarium is a treat for space enthusiasts both young and the young at heart. The aim for most attending is to see one of the many exciting and educational films showing in their various domed theatres. While you are waiting for your film to begin, you can explore the games and activities provided – navigating an asteroid field in a game similar to air hockey for one.
During our visit, we were seated in the Chaos Theatre for the Continuum and Aurorae double feature. Inside the theatre, we were in awe. As the theatres are domed, the screen is all around and above taking up all the ceiling and walls. The center of the theatre is a collection of large beanbags surrounded by two rings of solid reclined seating. Trust me; the beanbags are where it’s at.
As the audience settled in, we focused on the screen above aptly showing the night sky filled with stars and the full moon massive in the distance. It feels like lying back and watching the stars while camping. As the film Continuum commences, the audience is shot through the sky and into outer space.
This film is not a standard documentary as there is no dialogue or commentary, just bright and visceral images of the wonders of the vast unknown set to an equally stunning symphonic soundtrack. It’s hard to find standout moments in this film as each aspect blends into the next. You start from the ground and fly up and out into the atmosphere, past the planets of the solar system and beyond. You encounter asteroids, the Milky Way and you keep going. Eventually, the outer space effects gradually and seamlessly shift to the deep sea which is where Continuum lives up to its name.
As the screen takes up the whole of your vision, space debris can be seen hurtling at you from your peripheral. If you allow yourself to let your mind wander with the film, which is hard not to if you are fully lying back, it’s not hard to feel overcome with a sense of falling, dizziness, or vertigo. It can be a bit disorienting. Overall, I enjoyed the rollercoaster effects that it has on the mind and body.
Unlike Continuum, Aurorae is a film with commentary – live commentary, to be exact, presented by a Space for Life employee. The film starts again with the night sky except this time stars took time to gradually appear, just as they would appear at early nightfall. The commentary describes the stars that can be seen in Montreal and focuses on constellations that can appear right above our heads at this time of year on a clear day and the other constellations that can appear in the spring.
As the constellations would appear across the screen as if it were the night sky, it was impossible to see each one as they appeared and I found myself shifting and craning my neck to see what had popped up behind me.
Soon, the exploration of constellations gave way to the true focus of this film – the Northern Lights. Aurorae is a documentary piece filmed five years ago for the anniversary of the Planetarium’s move to be next to the Montreal Tower and is a reflection on the Northern Lights, how they are formed and how they are deeply connected with the Inuit people.
Formed by gases in the atmosphere moving between the Earth’s magnetic poles with different gases causing different colors to form, the Inuit people have seen the lights as spiritual beings and even giants as often dark shadows can be seen within the lights. The Northern Lights appear more prominently at different times of the year, usually late September to mid-March, and thus helps to bring Inuit communities together in celebration. They can even be viewed, at times, in the northern parts of Montreal.
Though the lesson on constellations was certainly fascinating, I didn’t see how it really tied into the heart of the film which was the Northern Lights, aside from explaining how the North and South poles worked. The rest of the film was beautiful and also greatly captivating and it did teach me quite a bit about the lights – like how they can even emit a crackling sound that is similar to the sounds of a campfire. There is a lot of information to convey throughout Aurorae and our host did excellent work narrating the film in English.
Continuum/Aurorae and other films currently showing at the Space for Life Planetarium have showings in both English and French, see website for more information and scheduling. Tickets are $20.50 for adults, $18.75 for seniors 65+, $15 for students 18+ with ID, $10.25 for children ages 5-17 and free for children ages 0-4. Family packages are also available for two adults and two or three children ($56.75).
Review by Samantha Wu
Photos by Yehuda Fisher