"Welcome to the Universe" at the Adler | Film review
The Adler Planetarium opens a new attraction this weekend: "Welcome to the Universe," screening in the thrillingly upgraded Grainger Sky Theater. It's hard to know what to call it—A short film? Sky show? Presentation?—but the 25-minute experience most assuredly will reorient your perspective. And for those too little to follow the scientific narration, there's a never-ending array of visuals to engage imaginations young and old.
After a $14-million overhaul, the Sky Theater is now the world's most technologically advanced projection theater that's open to the public. (Adler staffers tell us the Feds have some pretty swanky simulators.) So we're pleased to see them adding to the venue's repertoire, which previously screened only "The Searcher" (sometimes also called "Deep Space Adventure"); that 22-minute short boasts stunning imagery, strung together with a loose sci-fi narrative about an alien (heard but not seen) looking to find his home planet. Which, let's face it, is an odd choice for an astronomy museum. (If you're going to go sci-fi, why not develop a full-blown plot?) With the arrival of the 25-minute-long "Welcome," museum-goers can choose to see one or both. Either way, kids will love to hang out beforehand in the super-cool interactive Clark Welcome Center, using their shadows to manipulate projections on the futuristic walls.
The reason "film short" feels inadequate to describe "Welcome" is simple: It's more than that. The show uses real data, including images gleaned by telescopes and satellite (processed by the museum's own impressive network of 45 computers, then beamed into the Sky Theater by 20 state-of-the-art projectors), and it can be updated on a weekly or even daily basis. Adler staff is referring to it as a "space-simulation environment," and a "pilot guide." During the press preview two weeks ago, we witnessed images, taken from satellites, of a brand-new volcano forming in the Red Sea.
Speaking of satellites: One of the most striking moments occurs when the perspective pulls back from Earth and we begin to see the multiple layers of man-made satellites circling our planet. (They're depicted via animated, multicolored colored circles, each indicating a given orbit.) But that's just the start of the trip, which eventually pulls outside of our Milky Way galaxy into the larger cosmos—a mind-boggling journey. To keep us partly earthbound, the whole thing gets accompanied by an electronica score composed by Moby.
To our minds, the primary goal of any Adler film or exhibit should be to engage our curiosity about the infinite possibilities that lie outside our humble home on Spaceship Earth. On that count, "Welcome to the Universe" surely succeeds.
"Welcome to the Universe" opens Friday, May 25 at the Adler Planetarium (1300 S Lake Shore Dr, 312-922-7827). Tickets to the experience plus general admission cost $28 adults, $22 kids 3–11. Chicago residents receive a $2–$3 discount.