L5: First City in Space

on October 11, 1996 by Kim Williamson
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   The latest 3-D (sight and sound) release in the IMAX format tries to overcome a constant complaint about the usual giant-screen offering-- its documentary nature doesn't provide an engaging narrative--by making "L5: First City in Space" a hybrid of the fiction and fact genres. To a certain extent, it succeeds.
   The half-hour film opens in an eden-like garden with a little girl named Chieko (Rachel Walker) walking along a path; a past-tense, first-person voiceover (by Martha Henry) that will continue throughout "L5" explains that Chieko lives in the late 21st century aboard a floating space colony called L5, named for the Lagrange Point it occupies, at which the Earth's and Moon's gravity cancel each other. Before the film begins interacting Chieko with her key fellow colonists--her physician mother Genevieve (Genevieve Langlois), flight commander father Yoshio (Denis Akiyama) and scientist grandfather (Colin Fox)--the audience is given a future history course on the development of space travel (the shuttle and Mir launches, the first space station in 2010, landing on Mars in 2040, reaching the outer planets in 2070). Caught up to its vi sual present, "L5" then follows Chieko on her daily rounds, as she tends hydroponic gardens and cyber- plays with children back on Earth. The VO, however, continues in the past tense, suggesting a narrative plotpoint to come. And come it does: Grandfather calculates that L5 will soon run out of sufficient water; rather than allow the work of the space city's 10,000 dedicated residents come to an end, Yoshio decides to embark on a hazardous mission to a nearby comet. Landing there, he will attach rockets to its surface and redirect its path toward L5, which will be able to "mine" its icy body for water. From this point, the film intercuts between Yoshio on his journey and his family back home, watching via hologram.
   Although the kapow impact of the giant IMAX screen might seem best suited for astonishing viewers with real-life images, here as with filmmaker Toni Myers' previous "Destiny in Space" the most gripping visuals are computer generated (most specifically, Yoshio's landing on the comet). What works least well is the live-action activity; the fault lies not so much with the direction by Allan Kroeker as with Myers' slow story, the simplicity of which will prove engaging only to moviegoers of single-digit ages. Myers' control of fact (much of "L5" is based on NASA data and postulations by leading scientists) easily outdistances her understanding of character and drama; one scene in particular evidences this. When Chieko plays with the Earth children, only to have their apparently real bodies wink into nonexistence when Chieko's mom calls her to bed, one's true reaction could only be melancholy at the loneliness and inauthenticity of the little girl's life; instead, Myers seems to see this as one more cool thing our future will offer. Still, for school-trip and family audiences, "L5" represents one of the best IMAX movies ever, and its intriguing look over the horizon into the 21st century is diverting enough for its run time. Starring Colin Fox, Rachel Walker, Denis Akiyama and Genevieve Langlois. Directed, written and produced by Toni Myers; live action directed by Allan Kroeker. An Imax Corp. release. Drama. Format: IMAX 3-D. Running time: 34 min
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