June 11, 2001 -- "SolarMax" has some dazzling images, but the IMAX®-formatted documentary isn't able to cover a subject as big as the sun in just 40 minutes. In order to make the job more impossible, the film also threw in a very brief history of astronomy and sun worship as well. It was so thin, I thought I was back in grade school watching "Our Mister Sun."
The most dazzling images of all were those of the furious motion on the surface of the sun, the whorls and blasts of solar storms, the sunspots and other spectacular features. None of these images were computer animations, according to a film caption, all were images derived from various instruments used to study the sun, including SOHO, a space solar observation satellite. The images show the fury of the solar storms and the complexity of the sun's makeup.
The film has a few surprising facts up its sleeve. One of the more interesting shots is of a neolithic passage tomb at Uaimh na Gréine, "the cave of the sun" at Newgrange, Ireland. While there are many structures built to indicate the winter solstice, this ancient tomb is said to be the oldest in existence. The narrator of the film, Alex Scott, who sounds a bit like Patrick Stewart, casually mentions that once in a great while the sun emits a huge solar storm that might burn off most of the earth's ozone layer. The film also shows us the Norse ruins at Qaqortoq, Greenland while Scott intones that ancient Norse settlers built their houses in Greenland during a period of high solar activity. Then the temperature dropped two degrees due to an unusually quiet solar period and the settlers all starved to death in a frozen wasteland.
The rest of the film is a mad dash of South American sun worshipers, a dead satellite being brought back to life, stuff about Copernicus and Gallileo and early church opposition to the theory of a heliocentric universe, among many other things. It is quite a hodgepodge of information spread thinly over the images on the huge IMAX screen. Recently, I saw a PBS show on a similar subject called "Solar Blast," which I thought was superior in every way, except for the visual images.
"SolarMax" is a good show for kids because it is good looking and because it gives a brief overview of some solar fundamentals. Anyone with a basic knowledge of science is going to find it adds little to some very familiar territory, however. The U.S. National Science Foundation provided support for this film which was developed in cooperation with the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. The museum served as the executive producer and is the international distributor of the film. IMAX® is a special large format film shown on special projection and sound systems in theaters sporting the IMAX trademark name. IMAX projection systems provide an especially large and sharp picture. This film rates a C.
Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.