HOME   News   Reviews   Adv Search   Features   My DVD   About   Apps   Stats     Search:
  Directed by
  • Pan&Scan
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
    English, French, Spanish, German, Czech, Greek, Polish, Hungarian, Dutch, Portuguese, Turkish, Swedish
  • Teaser trailer

IMAX - Hail Columbia!

IMAX/Warner Home Video . R4 . COLOR . 35 mins . G . PAL


Though IMAX cinemas are undeniably a thrill-ride kind of experience, don’t think for a moment that they exist as a mere gimmick. Never content to simply throw giant-screen first-person rollercoaster footage at their customers, IMAX Systems Corporation wasted no time in finding visually spectacular documentary material that also happened to be actually interesting. The US space program, not surprisingly, has provided a solid source of material for the IMAX team over the past couple of decades.

Hail Columbia was made in 1981 - yes, two decades ago, back when Ronald Reagan was president, Russia was still the enemy and every achievement in space was also a spectacular victory for the “free”. Produced to chronicle the first ever flight of the then-new space shuttle, it’s a 35-minute film that essentially lives for its one single “money shot” - a glorious IMAX-format view of the shuttle’s first-ever lift-off. It’s undeniably impressive, even on the small screen - this was, after all, one of the watershed moments in space exploration.

The landing is covered as well, though nowhere near as excitingly (and using, it would seem, some non-IMAX cameras). Why, people are asked, did you come to the desert to watch the space shuttle land? “Because I’m American,” says one, while others just weep with pride and no small amount of relief. It’s that kind of film.


The IMAX format uses a 65mm negative that runs horizontally, capturing individual frames that are quite literally ten times the size of a full academy 35mm frame (in other words, even more than ten times the size of the matted 1.85:1 frame used today). It’s even three times the size of a standard 65/70mm film frame. This translates to resolution, resolution, resolution. What a pity you can’t see any of it on your DVD player. The available resolution of DVD simple isn’t great enough to convey the difference, it’s as simple as that. This is why many 70mm films are reduction-printed to 35mm for video transfer (though this disc’s cover claims that the transfer here was done from 70mm elements).

Hail Columbia is presented, like all the Warner-released IMAX discs, without any letterboxing in a standard 4:3 television frame. This means that technically this is a “pan and scan” transfer (IMAX’s aspect ratio is 1.44:1) but in practice it makes no difference; IMAX films are generally composed with a good amount of safe area on the frame edges anyway.

Image quality is reasonable; this is a 21 year-old film, and the elements are in remarkably good shape for their vintage. You’ll see grain, but only on shots taken from video and smaller film formats, most of which are displayed, as is the IMAX custom, in a small section of the lower part of the screen. One of the large-format landing shots is exceptionally grainy, and it looks to have either been created by zooming in on a larger film frame, shot on 35mm or shot in extremely poor light conditions; it’s intensely grainy and washed out.

Warner’s video compression is very disappointing here. While artefacts are generally kept to a minimum, there appears to have been a degree of edge enhancement applied and this plays havoc with some of the smaller detail, especially in the split-screen tiny-frame sequences. In the pre-take-off miniature shot of the shuttle, you can actually see the encoder making bad decisions about how to compress what’s being fed to it; it “pulses” edge details and throws up tiny but noticeable digital garbage. This also happens elsewhere, but not as blatantly.

The 35 minutes of video is encoded on a single layered disc in a mere 1.4GB - yep, there’s three gigabytes of free space here, which could easily have been used to ramp up the video encoding bitrate.


The video may be fairly uninspiring, but the audio - especially for a 1981 production - is quite remarkable. IMAX has always offered 6.1-channel surround sound (there are two front centre channels in an IMAX theatre) and so the audience-participation soundtrack of Hail Columbia translates well to the Dolby Digital environment. If you’ve been looking for that elusive disc to show off your many speakers to all your friends, this (or for that matter most other IMAX discs) should do the job.

Narration is kept to the front speakers (all three, strangely) while other sound is cheerfully bounced around the room at will, most effectively during a press conference sequence that was recorded in mono but has been cleverly turned into realistic surround. The launch sequence is a glorious cacophony of rumble, thunder and crackle, and the sound team aren’t about to stop there - as the shuttle loudly takes off, they’re throwing the kitchen sink in as well - crowd noises, radio conversations and static arc up the excitement level nicely.

Fidelity is occasionally limited (mostly by source materials) and the music score is absolutely god-awful, but generally this is a fun audio experience. Narration is by Hollywood veteran James Whitmore.


The only extra feature included is a one-minute promo trailer for IMAX DVD releases, full-frame with stereo sound.


This first IMAX-meets-shuttle effort does not offer glorious views from space - an IMAX camera was finally taken on board the shuttle for the later film The Dream Is Alive - but there are a handful of static photographs taken by the astronauts that are presented in the large format. As an IMAX experience, though, Hail Columbia is a bit underwhelming, but as a short historical documentary it’s well worth the time.

Warner’s DVD is a reasonable effort at putting a film on DVD which really needs a seven-storey screen to be appreciated, but at the current price tag ($30 for a 20 year-old 35-minute documentary) the disc represents dreadful value. We’d like to see three or four related IMAX films on the one disc for this kind of money; however, if it’s any consolation, the disc’s still cheaper here than it is in the US.

  • LINK: http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=1616
  • Send to a friend.

    Cast your vote here: You must enable cookies to vote.
      And I quote...
    "...a reasonable effort at putting a film on DVD which really needs a seven-storey screen to be appreciated..."
    - Anthony Horan
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Sony DVP-NS300
    • TV:
          Panasonic - The One
    • Receiver:
          Sony STR-DB870
    • Speakers:
          Klipsch Tangent 500
    • Centre Speaker:
    • Surrounds:
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard Optical
    • Video Cables:
          Monster s-video
      Recent Reviews:
    by Anthony Horan

    Immortal Beloved
    "For two hours, this film will transport you..."

    Pet Shop Boys - Pop Art
    "A must-buy for Pet Shop Boys fans, Pop Art is also highly recommended for those who remember how good pop music could be in the ‘80s."

    Alias - The Complete First Season
    "One of the most addictive and entertaining US television series' in many years... Buena Vista's DVD set gets almost everything right."

    R.E.M.: In View - The Best of 1988-2003
    "Every home should have one."

    Queen Margot
    "A spectacular, enthralling masterpiece..."

      Related Links


    Search for Title/Actor/Director:
    Google Web dvd.net.au
       Copyright © DVDnet. All rights reserved. Site Design by RED 5