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NASA teams up with Hollywood for 'Beautiful' film

A scene from the IMAX® film A Beautiful Planet – A nighttime view of Spain, The Mediterranean, and the Aurora.
Source: NASA
A scene from the IMAX® film A Beautiful Planet – A nighttime view of Spain, The Mediterranean, and the Aurora.

NASA is teaming up with Hollywood again—this time to help earthlings appreciate nature.

The space agency cooperated with IMAX Entertainment for its newest film, "A Beautiful Planet", which gives moviegoers a never before seen glimpse of Earth from space, as part of an effort to demystify the planet and the galaxy. Narrated by mega-star Jennifer Lawrence, the documentary presents a breathtaking view of Earth with footage captured and shot by astronauts aboard the International Space Station.

According to the filmmakers and participants, "A Beautiful Planet," is timed to Earth Day to help enhance understanding about the planet. It is also meant to serve as a cautionary tale, but an optimistic one as the world acts to prevent environmental degradation.

"We can change this planet for good or ill. One individual can have a significant effect on this Earth –an effect you can see from space," said NASA Astronaut Kjell Lindgren.

"When seeing this movie I hope that it gives each person an individual sense of responsibility to take care of our planet that is in turn taking care of us," Lindgren added.

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In the film, producer/director Toni Myers and her team capture several startling images that depict human's impact on Earth.

Once covered in forests, the island of Madagascar is now brown. Meanwhile Brazil, whose rainforests are home to nearly half of the species found on Earth, have been cut down and burned: Nearly half a million square miles have been lost over the past four decades.

From space the astronauts were also able to witness the significant depletion of the Colorado River Basin, which has sunk 30 feet over the last 75 years and supplies water to 40 million Americans in seven different states.

However, the film notes that measures are being taken to help prevent this from happening: This week at the United Nations, 175 countries signed a landmark accord that pledged to limit their contribution to greenhouse gases.

The documentary also broke ground in cinematography. For the first time on an IMAX space production, the footage captured was filmed entirely with digital cameras.

The filmmakers spent three years selecting the right equipment, and finally decided on using an assortment of Canon digital cameras.

"We would not have the nighttime scenes without the digital dynamic range," said Myers. "What the digital capture did was totally open up that night word to us, with stars, cities, lightning and other phenomena that you only see at night like the Aurora."

Using the ISS Cupola

A scene from the IMAX® film A Beautiful Planet – Florida and the Bahamas in the moonlight. You can see the vibrant colors of the Bahama reefs.
Source: NASA
A scene from the IMAX® film A Beautiful Planet – Florida and the Bahamas in the moonlight. You can see the vibrant colors of the Bahama reefs.

Another feature unique to this film is the use of the International Space Station's Cuploa, which provides a 180-degree view of Earth. "A Beautiful Planet" is the first IMAX production to utilize the Cupola and offers "the best window of Earth that there is," said James Neihouse, director of photography for the film.

The astronauts had the opportunity to capture footage for the film, and were selected merely by chance—based on whether their training blocks aligned with the film's shooting schedule. The astronauts selected then underwent camera and video training with the IMAX team. "It was a mini film school –but one taught by the masters," said NASA's Lindgren.

Berry Wilmore, the first astronaut to start shooting for "A Beautiful Planet", described the experience as nearly life-changing.

"To have the opportunity to work with IMAX, to show people what only we as astronauts get to see, and to have a piece of that experience to keep with me is simply remarkable."

"A Beautiful Planet" will be in select theaters beginning April 29th.