Cosmic Wonder is a blast, but prosaic wonder can be pretty good too



The entrance to the Adler Planetarium
  • Poco a Poco/Wikimedia Commons
  • The entrance to the Adler Planetarium
Even though I think they're all pretty much the same, I've never been disappointed by any of the Adler Planetarium's space shows. Those domed screens just leave me defenseless. The image is not just above but all around you, meaning you have to arch your neck all the way back if you want to see everything. You can't, of course, but that nagging frustration—as well as the slight discomfort of stretching your neck—only adds to the experience. It makes you understand in physical terms just how challenging it is to contemplate something as vast as the cosmos—I always exit the screening room more appreciative of what astronomers do. The latest show at the Adler is called Cosmic Wonder, which is surprising because you'd think they'd have used that title already.

In those cinemas designed before the rise of stadium seating, looking up is usually a bane. The first few rows are almost directly beneath the screen; if you sit in that area, you can never see the entire frame at once. You watch the movie as if it were a tennis game in the sky, your head darting back and forth and eyeballs straining upward. Whenever I've watched a movie in that spot, it's because I arrived to a popular screening after all the better seats had filled. But if the crowd's a good one, their enthusiasm can compensate for the obstructed view. You can intuit what you aren't seeing from the responses coming from behind you: laughter, gasps, the palpable tenseness of collective fascination.

This sensation might be the opposite of cosmic wonder (few things make you feel more earthbound than being packed at the front of a crowd), but it's wonder all the same. Call it the voodoo of a live audience.

Ben Sachs writes about moviegoing every Monday.

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