Movies in the Real World (Katon)

The University of Pennsylvania
2012-2013 spring semester
Queer and Feminist Film Studies(GSWS 322-401)
Movies in the Real World

Teacher: Dr. Cathy Hannabach
Student: Katon (Kai Chun, LEE)

Name of the movie: Space Junk
Genre of the movie: iMAX film, technology, space science, animated documentary
Date and Time of watching: 13th January, 2013 (Sunday); 1:45pm
Venue: The Tuttleman IMAX Theater in the Franklin Institute (see Picture 1)

  • It is an IMAX dome theater that is 180° encompassing and tilted at 30 degrees. The seating places the audience up in the dome which is over 70 feet (21 m) across and 4.5 stories tall. In addition, the theater has 20,000 watts of amplifier power and over 50 speakers. Educational films are mainly showed during daytime hours while mass release feature length films are also included.


Picture 1: IMAX dome theater that is 180° encompassing and tilted at 30 degrees.


As an exchange student from Hong Kong, it is a precious chance for me to explore Philly during this semester. Thus, one day I visited the Franklin Institute in the Old City with my friends. My friends and I were surprised when we discovered the cinema there. We at first wanted to watch The Hobbit, but due to unsuitable showing time, we watched another nice film – the Space Junk.

However, why do we need to study this film after watching it? Especially it is about space, seeming not so related to our daily life. Some friends of mine who know I am writing a paper on this film claim that it is just a movie for entertainment and even ask me “why so serious?”. Indeed, why do we need to study the Space Junk so deeply?

Every film contains lots of details. And those details vary from one film to another one. A certain director may sanitize the film set and try to let bits of the real into their films but another director may not; some actors may like to improvise but some may not; some crews may spend a great deal of time and expense between shots adjusting the lighting so that each shot will look as polished as possible but some may not (Smith, pp.127-128). These variables make cinema full of complexity. Film is so complicated that it is not simply a telegram (Smith, pp.128-129). Mentioned by Greg M. Smith, it should be avoided to think that a film can be understood as having a single message which we either “get” or not. The cinema is a richer form of communication than can be conceptualized as sender-message-receiver (Smith, p. 129).

More importantly, films contain ideology and are predominantly perceived as a cultural discourse (Hayward, p.104). According to Hayward, Ideology is the discourse that invests a nation or society with meaning and cinema is an ideological apparatus by nature (Hayward, pp.215-216). In relations to ideology, films have arguments to issues. Consider Space Junk. It makes arguments on space preservation and space junk cleaning in response to the issue of space junk.

Thus, all films, including the Space Junk concerning topics seemingly not everyday enough like high-technology, space science and the universe, are also making arguments to express “something”. This becomes a profound reason for us to discover the “something” in the film. In this sense, after watching and enjoying Space Junk, it is worthwhile to read into it to break its complexity down and discover the aforementioned “something”.

Focus on the Film: Introduction and Summary of the Space Junk

In my opinion, Space Junk is a documentary. According to Grierson, documentary should be an instrument of information, education and propaganda (Hayward, p.106). On top of this definition, Lindsay Anderson and other founder members of Free Cinema Britain added that the aesthetic value of documentary film should also be considered (Hayward, p.106).

Space Junk fits in with the above criteria of documentary. It firstly describes the formation of the galaxy, stars and planets like the Earth and then introduces the status quo of space science and technology, including the use of satellite and data transmission. Providing different branches of technological knowledge and raw fact, this part is exactly an instrument of information.

It is also a form of education, telling of the functions of satellite and process of data transmission. What is more important is that it points out a collision of data may be resulted when more satellites are required to meet the increasing demand of data transmission. This collision chain effect will lower the efficiency of data transmission and overburden the satellites. As a result, the current satellites will suffer a lot of wear and tear and become useless, turning to space junk at last while more new satellites are launched to replace the old ones. In the end, this keeps filling the space with more space junk. We can see that Space Junk aims at educating its audience about the current serious situation of our space and promoting the concepts of space cleaning and environmental friendliness in the universe.

Moreover, this film emphasizes the use of IMAX in pursuit of a better presentation. It uses the IMAX dome theater with 180° encompassing and tilted at 30 degrees to show the enormous universe. To some extent, it has already met the definition by Free Cinema Britain concerning the aesthetic value of documentary.

To conclude, as a documentary film, Space Junk introduces information and knowledge, educates the audience the seriousness and promotes different concepts of preservation and solutions of the space. Meanwhile, it fully shows the beauty and overwhelming feeling of the universe by using the iMAX technology.

Focus on the public cinematic experience

This public cinematic experience by and large impressed me. My attention was drawn upon the space of the cinema, interaction between the film itself and other audiences and the tickets. In the following part, I will deeply analyze what I saw as well as share my feelings of this cinematic experience.

The space of the cinema was aforementioned. It is an IMAX dome theater with 180° encompassing and tilted at 30 degrees. Though it can accommodate over 100 audiences, there were lots of empty seats at that time. I think audiences can sit and enjoy the movie very comfortably. And the dome screen is so awesome that it totally covers any audience. All of us could feel the cinematic shocking power of the space. As for other audiences, most of them were teenagers and children around 10 years old, with their parents accompanying (see Picture 2). As topics of space science may interest boys more, I noticed that boys watching this film outnumbered girls. It also came to my attention that the audiences were seemingly from middle-class white families as I could see that they were all white people and could afford several snacks to enjoy during the film.


Picture 2: Most of the audiences were teenagers and children around 10 years old, with their parents accompanying.

With regards to the interaction between the above audience and the film, they were amazed at the very beginning of the film. When the film officially started with the diminishing lights, they “WOWed” so loudly because the screen was too gigantic as if it was a real sky (see picture 3).

 doom face

Picture 3: The screen was too gigantic as if it was a real sky. Audiences kept wowing at the very beginning of the film.

However, other audiences get less and less reaction. Perhaps they were paying much attention to the film. But in my opinion, one of the reasons may be due to the genre of the film. Compared to other more exciting films, Space Junk is a documentary. It may bore the children and teenagers who were expecting to watch an exciting space science film or fancy technological action movie. Thus, it is also possible that the young audiences hardly had reactions towards Space Junk. As for the parents, most probably they watched this film because they needed to accompany their children. Thus, they may not be interested Space Junk from the very beginning. As a result, it is not difficult to expect that there would be nearly no interaction between the film and the whole audience.

Although the film and cinematic environment were too quiet to impress anyone, I think the tickets were so special and memorable that they make this public cinematic experience more worthwhile. The orange tickets indicate that you have once watched movies in the Franklin Institute (see picture 4). They are irreplaceable in proving you once enjoyed a film basically in a famous science museum in Philly. Apart from the tickets, you could get the visitors’ guide, map and leaflet of daily programs and shows when you purchased the tickets (see picture 4). It was far more convenient for a traveler who got this information to enjoy every part of the museum. Though I do not know what other young audiences and their parents think, I personally think that the design of the tickets and the extra information provided could impress every tourist from different corners of the Earth, like me.


Picture 4: The orange tickets indicate that you have once watched movies in the Franklin Institute. You could get the visitors’ guide, map and leaflet of daily programs and shows when you purchased the tickets

To conclude, the collective film watching experience was memorable for me. I had a great time in watching a space science documentary film in the famous science museum – the Franklin Institute. Though the plots of the film may sometimes boring to a particular group of audience, the space of theatre, tickets and extra information provided were stunning to me. I think I am similar to most of other audiences – having enjoyed throughout the show and a memorable public cinematic experience.

Reference of work cited

  1. Hayward, Susan, Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts, 3rd Edition (New York: Routledge, 2006).
  2. Smith, Greg, “It’s Just a Movie: A Teaching Essay for Introductory Media Classes”, Cinema Journal 41.1 (2001), pp.127-134.