Spaceship Earth Movie Review
In the 1960s and 70s, while most free minds opted for fun things like sex and drugs, a small group of individuals formed a commune with a broader vision. Foregoing drugs altogether (according to them, at least), they sought to tackle one challenge after another, from forming a self-sufficient farm to building a seaworthy ship with no prior expertise. Their greatest and most ambitious mission came to fruition in 1991, however, when the two-year Biosphere 2 experiment kicked off.
Spaceship Earth chronicles the decades leading up to Biosphere 2, which captured worldwide attention, and the events that unfolded “inside the dome” over the two years that followed. No, it’s not about Disney’s Epcot Center.
The first third of the documentary by Matt Wolf, set before Biosphere 2 even exists, is oddly the most fascinating portion of the film. It is during this time that Wolf explores the people behind it all, their motivations, their unique blend of skills and desires that culminated in a variety of achievements spanning decades. It is during this time that he seems to best tap into what makes them tick, the psychological drivers of this strange-but-rather-admirable commune. And it’s during this time that the movie feels most alive.
That should have been the prelude, the setup, but disappointingly Spaceship Earth peaks the moment the doors to Biosphere 2 close. While the rest of the film, which documents the various successes and failures of the experiment (and the controversy), does a fine job of recapping things using a mix of interviews, footage, and more, it falls short of aspiring to something more.
What Spaceship Earth could have been, what I expected it to be, was an exploration of the hardships of the people involved. Whether it’s through Wikipedia or a thousand other sources, you can read the cliff notes of the ups and downs of the ambitious trial, and frankly Spaceship Earth seemingly glosses over so many of them. What did these people go through given their relative isolation? How did they manage being around the same few (and presumably eccentric) people for two years? How did they fare during the first year when food shortages were reportedly a problem?
Wolf touches on these problems but rarely dives into them, opting to offer a high-level view of everything rather than fixate on the most fascinating elements.
Spaceship Earth offers a good history lesson on the Biosphere 2 project--I was nine when the experiment started, and only vaguely recall seeing it on the news--but as a documentary intended to go deeper, it never blasts off.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.