'Spaceship Earth' Review
“Spaceship Earth” is not an inside look at the popular Disney World EPCOT attraction. Instead, it’s a documentary on the ground-breaking human science experiment called Biosphere 2. If you lived during the early ‘90s, you may remember Biosphere 2: eight people were quarantined for two years inside a research structure — built in the Arizona desert— designed to replicate earth’s ecosystem. If, like me, you’re too young to have followed Biosphere 2 when it happened, this film takes you back to a time when quarantining for the good of mankind was voluntary.
Director Matt Wolf was alive during the Biosphere 2 phenomenon, but he admits he doesn’t recall much about it. Wolf actually learned about the venture many years later. This fact could have helped the filmmaker bring an interesting, outside perspective to a event. Unfortunately, that’s not what we get.
“Spaceship Earth” isn’t the behind-the-scenes, tell-all expose on the fascinating and highly controversial event that was Biosphere 2. Instead, this is a soft, tame and, ultimately disappointing look at one of mankind’s most unique and bizarre projects.
Wolf packs act one of his doc with dull, uninspired interviews and archival footage of the people who will eventually become the “Biospherians”. This group is led by Oklahoman John Allen. In the ’60s, the charismatic Allen formed a troupe called “The Theater of All Possibilities”. Young dreamers, intellectuals, and artists joined together to share ideas about life and saving the world.
And while they did some amazing things, listening to their endless accounts of yesteryear is a slog to get through. There’s way too much boasting about the group’s accomplishments and very few details of how and why. For example: How did this group of “hippies” — with no jobs or income — travel around the planet doing good deeds?
It all did seem kinda cult-ish — with the eccentric Allen as cult leader. The troupe often performed wacky, bizarre, plays. Think of them as “Second City” meets “Cheech & Chong”. But the worst part of this extensive backstory is that it delays us from getting what we really want from a documentary on Biosphere 2: the inside scoop on Biosphere 2!
Instead, the majority of “Spaceship Earth” is a puff piece, with only a few sprinkles of the drama and conflicts which engulfed this absurd experiment.
By far, the most interesting moments of “Spaceship Earth” center on the ultimate failure of Biosphere 2. And we don’t get any of that until the halfway mark. News footage from the time, exposing the event as more scam than science, is fascinating. But you get the feeling Wolf included these almost reluctantly, not wanting to offend the insiders who helped him make his movie.
There’s also a complete lack of basic information that everyone watching this film will want to know. Where did these eight people sleep? Where was everything for this two year adventure stored? How did the sanitation system in this enclosed ecosystem work? Where did fresh water come from if the dome prevented rain from entering the “natural” environment? Viewers would have been much better served with answers to these and other practical questions instead of the non-stop footage of the Biospherians planting crops, and singing and dancing. Things only get juicy when there’s a accident, and the whole project is exposed as a fraud.
Some filmmaking techniques do not work either, including ending each scene with a cut to black. And the soundtrack far too grandiose, inappropriate and distracting.
From the little I actually learned about Biosphere 2 in “Spaceship Earth” it’s clear it was one of the wackiest events of the 20th century, making it a perfect subject for a great documentary. This just isn’t it.