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Review: The Wonderful


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The Wonderful: Stories from the Space Station
directed by Clare Lewins
2021, 127 mins., not rated

The International Space Station, over its more than two decades of continuous occupation, has become something of an institution. Having shifted a decade ago from assembly to full-fledged operations, discussions about the station have focused on getting people to and from the station, the research that goes on there, its upkeep, and, most recently, what its long-term future will be (see “What is the future of the International Space Station?”, The Space Review, this issue.)

But there are also people who have lived and worked there, some for nearly a year at a time. Those people are at the heart of The Wonderful, a new documentary now available on a variety of online platforms, that tells the stories of those who have flown to the ISS, and their experiences before, during, and after their missions.

Those accounts are varied, with those space travelers talking about both their good and bad experiences.

The film’s subtitle is both succinct and accurate: it is a collection of accounts from astronauts and cosmonauts from the US, Russia, Europe, and Japan. Many give their background about how they became astronauts or cosmonauts, but all describe what it was like to go to the ISS and spend months there.

Those accounts are varied, with those space travelers talking about both their good and bad experiences. Bill Shepherd talks about being on the first long-term expedition, including the training leading up to the flight. (Sergei Krikalev, also participates in the film, as does Ginger Kerrick, who supported training for the mission at NASA at the time.) Scott Kelly discusses the experience of spending nearly one year on the ISS. Frank Culbertson talks about being on the station during the 9/11 attacks of 20 years ago, the only American off the planet that day. Ken Bowersox revisits learning the news, while on the station, of the Columbia accident, and then later his return to Earth on a Soyuz spacecraft that suffered a high-g ballistic reentry.

The astronauts and others in the film speak in their own words, with extensive use of archival footage. There is no narrator to tie things together, and no clear arc of stories in the film (while it starts with Expedition One, it is not arranged in chronological order.) In some cases, the filmmakers create new footage, using actors to reenact scenes from astronauts’ childhoods when they were first dreaming of spaceflight.

The combination of interviews, additional scenes, and an original soundtrack creates a beautiful film. However, it’s also something of a ponderous film. Some of those new scenes and additional footage, with only the soundtrack, can drag out a film that runs for a little more than two hours. If you can immerse yourself in the film, perhaps you don’t notice, but watching some of those scenes may leave you wondering which space traveler you’ll hear from next, and when. After all, it’s those people and their spaceflight experiences that make The Wonderful, well, wonderful.


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