Hail Columbia! (1981)

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Released 9-Jul-2002

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category IMAX Main Menu Audio
Trailer-IMAX Trailer (1:02)
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1981
Running Time 35:08
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Graeme Ferguson

Warner Home Video
Starring James Whitmore
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $29.95 Music Micky Erbe
Maribeth Solomon

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.44:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Over the years I have been privileged to see many of the space-themed IMAX films at Kennedy Space Center and Johnson Space Center. So when three of the films came up for review on Region 4 DVD, you can bet that no one else was going to get them! After all, having seen them dozens of times over, I think I am qualified to review them!

    Of the three titles now coming up for release - Hail Columbia!, Destiny In Space and Mission To Mir - it is the current title that I have seen the least. It is the oldest of the three, by a considerable margin, and over the years it always seemed to be the one film that I always managed to miss on my visits to the Kennedy Space Center. The last visit I made to there happened to be a special one. First of all, I was privileged to be able to witness the launch of the space shuttle Endeavor on mission STS-100. Whilst I have seen plenty of vision of a space shuttle launch, there is absolutely nothing that can compare to the reality of a launch. Just to feel the sensation of the noise hitting one's chest is quite an amazing experience amongst a number of other memories of an awesome event. After the experience of the shuttle launch itself - and the souvenir frenzy in the gift shop - those attending the launch had the run of Kennedy Space Center, which meant big crowds for all exhibits. My father and I returned the next day to avoid the crowds and, lo and behold, apart from the usual diet of IMAX films, there was a special screening of a film that does not get shown often nowadays - Hail Columbia! I finally got to see the film after six visits to the Kennedy Space Center! Memorable it was, too - woefully out of sync and showing all the signs of having been stored in the bottom of a trash can for ten years!

    Whilst it has nothing much to do with the DVD, I would thoroughly recommend a visit to the Kennedy Space Center if you find yourself anywhere in the area, or in nearby Orlando, Florida. It's only an hour or so drive and it is one of the most fascinating places I have ever seen, made even more so if you can time the visit with a space shuttle launch. If you have any interest whatsoever in space exploration, you will surely enjoy the Kennedy Space Center and what it has to offer, which I suppose is the tie-in with the DVD, for the Kennedy Space Center is very much the front-line for the space shuttle program. As you might have surmised, Hail Columbia! is about one such space shuttle. In fact, the first shuttle intended for spaceflight - the earlier Enterprise (OV-101) was not an operating shuttle but rather a test shuttle not intended for spaceflight, whilst the ill-fated Challenger (OV-99) was built as a test vehicle and later converted for spaceflight - and still in service, and ready to blast off on the next shuttle mission, STS-107, on July 19. Incidentally, Columbia (OV-102) has flown in space 27 times, with STS-107 being its 28th spaceflight. The shuttle Discovery (OV-103) has flown in space 30 times and is the most used shuttle at this time, with Atlantis (OV-104) the next closest in number of flights, having completed 25 at this time.

    The programme basically can be divided into two parts - an abbreviated look at the shuttle Columbia (OV-102) up to its initial launch from the Kennedy Space Center with the minimal crew of John Young and Robert Crippen on 12th April, 1981, then a look at the landing of the shuttle at Edwards Air Force Base in California. As a sort of link is some small footage of the shuttle whilst in space and as a coda some footage of the shuttle being transported back to the Kennedy Space Center atop its specially modified Boeing 747 transporter.

    It might not be entirely adequate as a film but is very much in the format that we have come to expect from IMAX. Brief, to the point and generally with some excellent footage to capture the subject very well. Of course, the transition from a massive IMAX screen to a television means that it does lose somewhat in the impact stakes.


    The tragic events of 1st February, 2003 have made the poignancy of this title even greater. A tragic loss of human life that was reaching for a better future. I seriously doubt that I will be able to watch this DVD again without seeing the images of Columbia breaking up over Texas. Watch this DVD and remember those seven people who lost their lives in the skies and the families they have left behind.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality


    The original transfer was of course in an aspect ratio of 1.44:1 and designed for a rather massive screen. For the DVD release, the picture has been cropped a little to an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 but from my recollections of seeing the film, nothing significant has been lost in the process. The transfer is naturally enough not 16x9 enhanced. Somewhat surprisingly, but a very pleasant surprise I might add, is the fact unlike previous IMAX films on DVD, this transfer and those of its cousins listed above are in PAL format.

    The transfer at times suffers a little from the fact that it was designed to be watched on a seven storey high screen. Compressing it down to a vertical height of less than a half a metre has ensured that the definition is just a little on the soft side. Nothing drastic, but certainly not as sharp as on the big screen. Some of the presentation uses a format of small windows within the main picture, which works very well on the really large screen but not so well on the small screen. The main problem with the presentation in these small windows is the fact that the picture is incredibly grainy at times. Poor examples can be found at 4:25, 5:45 and 30:15 - my recollections are that these sections are inherently slightly grainy but not to the extent that they are here. Shadow detail is a little on the lacking side but this too is a product of the source material. Low level noise does not seem to be an issue with the transfer.

    The colours here are more than adequate, although they do reflect the fact that the transfer is over twenty years old. Compared to the later efforts that we will review shortly, the colours just lack the ultimate in vibrancy and tonal depth. There is no evidence of oversaturation nor colour bleed in the transfer.

    There did not appear to be any MPEG artefacts in the transfer. There a number of instances of minor aliasing, such as at 1:25 and 2:01, but nothing really that bad. It does hint at the fact that this might be an electronic NTSC to PAL conversion though. Just like the big screen version, there are plenty of film artefacts floating around, mainly black dirt and scratch marks. They really don't interfere with the transfer that much but they certainly are noticeable.

    There are twelve subtitle options on the DVD, of which of course one is English and thus the one I checked out. It should be noted that the subtitles not only cover the main narration from James Whitmore but also a lot of the background talking - for example of launch control. There is a fair deal of missing dialogue from the background stuff, but nothing seriously awry with the main narration.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    There is just the one soundtrack available on the DVD, being an English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack.

    The dialogue comes up well in the transfer and is clear and easy to understand. There does not appear to be any significant audio sync issues with the transfer, although given my only exposure to the film, perhaps there should be audio sync issues! It has to be said that certain portions of the transfer, notably during the interview material with the crew of Columbia, do seem to be out of sync marginally.

    The original music comes from Micky Erbe and Maribeth Solomon - the usual combination for IMAX films it seems. Like most IMAX films, the music makes a suitable supporting contribution that certainly does not detract from the whole experience. Of course, it too loses a bit of the impact that the massive speaker set-ups in the IMAX theatres can provide.

    There really is not much to say about the soundtrack. It is by no means an exemplary effort but then again it would be unreasonable to expect it to be. The source elements preclude it somewhat, but what we have got is decent surround channel use with some excellent LFE channel contributions when required - mainly when the shuttle blasts off into the wild blue yonder. It is a slightly cramped sounding effort but by no means anything that is unlistenable.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    Little in the way of extras to worry us here!


    Nothing exciting and the audio enhancement is hardly wondrous.

Trailer - IMAX Trailer (1:02)

    Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, it is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. It is basically an advertisement for the general IMAX DVD range.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    As far as we are aware, this is identical to the Region 1 release.


    It has to be said that whilst it is not the greatest quality DVD transfer that you are ever going to see, it certainly is better looking than the last time I saw the film at the Kennedy Space Center. Probably not something that will be everyone's cup of tea, but for the space nuts this is essential viewing and a half. If you have never seen a Space Shuttle launch, this contains about the closest experience to it that you can find. Showing its age in quite a few ways, it is still recommendable enough.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Tuesday, June 25, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-515, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

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