Spaceship Earth (2020)

“We were making it up as we went.”

Having only been a 1-year-old during the course of this uninspired, unfocused documentary’s events, there was no nostalgia factor for me heading into Spaceship Earth. In fact, I had never even heard a blip or a squeak about the goings on throughout my years of study and reading and late night rabbit hole dives. So, in a way, I’m thankful to the film for introducing me to something I likely otherwise never would have known. I just wish that it had been more investigative, more personal, and less reliant on the false grandeur of empty sensationalism. What am I supposed to learn here that I can’t read elsewhere?

Spaceship Earth introduces us to the man-made Biosphere before jetting back some 25 years, exploring the many projects and circumstances which led up to the film’s main event. There we meet the crafty, charismatic John Allen, who is for all intents and purposes the George Jetson of what should be classified as a clear cut commune (if you constantly have to defensively say, “We’re not a commune,” you might just be a commune). Allen recruited, shepherded, and weeded out his circle to only include the best of the best. The most free thinking and liberal of open minded individuals. Small projects led to bigger projects. All of which led to the $150 million construction of Biosphere 2, a vast facility meant to mimic all the corners of Earth under one shared, sustainable glass roof. There, the team of vaguely titled “biospherians” were to be locked away for two years, studying ecological systems and mankind’s effect on a carefully curated and manufactured Mother Nature. It’s an intriguing subject for a documentary feature, and it’s too bad we rarely get to see anything behind the curtains.

So much of Spaceship Earth has little or nothing at all to do with the ultimate endgame, and it doesn’t help that most of the material is so outright indulgent. Granted, it’s still interesting that John Allen was able to cultivate a cult-like atmosphere among intelligent thinkers. That his proteges willingly performed in a rusty and dusty theater group. That they largely did his bidding without question. And yet the heaps of material don’t coalesce or even congeal when edited together. Instead, Spaceship Earth wastes time and resources showing pointless events rather than first grounding itself in the human frameworks. It’s hard to care about any endeavor, no matter how grave or how flippant, when you don’t know or care about the people behind the scenes. Such is the case.

On a technical level, there’s really nothing all that wrong with Matt Wolf’s documentary feature. It would have benefited from weaving a tighter web, but there’s also undeniable craftsmanship on display and a knack for editing endless reels of footage down into a more streamlined package. What the picture lacks is focus, and it strays too far away from the confusion and the challenges within Biosphere 2 itself to really make any of the actions or inaction really resonate. Even worse, this HULU doc made me feel the gross waste of money and minds and resources on a frivolous PR stunt project that’s never given any motive or justification throughout, even becoming antithetical to the initial mission statement in the long run. Quite honestly, if given the choice, I’d rather watch Bio-Dome, which should tell you how I really feel about Spaceship Earth. At least that dumb door stop of a comedy has the wits to form a hypothesis and to depict a proper experiment.

“It’s all theater.”

Rating: 2 out of 5

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