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film review

Spaceship Earth offers a look at the group of people who built the Biosphere 2, a giant replica of the earth's ecosystem, in 1991.PHILIPPE PLAILLY/SCIENCE PHOTO L/Courtesy of Elevation Pictures

  • Spaceship Earth
  • Directed by Matt Wolf
  • Classification N/A; 113 minutes

Rating:

3.5 out of 4 stars

If all you know of the word “Biosphere” relates to the Montreal science centre or, much worse, the 1996 Pauly Shore “comedy” Bio-Dome, then please immediately watch Matt Wolf’s Spaceship Earth, a documentary as inspiring as it is flat-out bizarre.

Participants spent two years inside the Biosphere 2.Courtesy of Elevation Pictures

Chronicling the early-'90s Arizona science-experiment-writ-large known as Biosphere 2, Wolf’s expertly assembled film is half inquisitive history lesson, half character study of the men and women who sealed themselves off from the rest of humanity for two long, lonely, weird years. (The fact that the film is coming out now, at the height of a different sort of self-isolation, is a case of weird accidental timing.)

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The dream project of neo-hippie John Allen, the Biosphere 2 (the first Biosphere is, as Allen’s group was careful to note, our beloved planet Earth) was an exercise in publicity as much as it was in agriculture and psychology, a fact that Wolf explores with passion and curiosity. Composed of modern-day interviews with all surviving participants, including a rather healthy looking Allen, and tremendous archive footage, Spaceship Earth plays, as one character notes, like “science fiction without the fiction.”

The story of the project’s rise and fall would be compelling in the hands of the most amateur of filmmakers, but luckily Wolf is working near the top of the documentary game here, letting the past speak for itself while at the same time never getting lost in the fog of history. Consider Owen Pallett’s transfixing score, and a late-game surprise appearance by one of today’s top political villains, hermetically grown cherries on the top of the biosphere sundae.

Spaceship Earth is available digitally on-demand starting May 8

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