In February of 2013, an asteroid streaked across the sky and broke up over the city of Chelyabinsk, Russia. While this was a relatively small asteroid, only about the size of a six-story building, the blast was greater than a nuclear explosion. A much larger asteroid, six-miles wide, crashed into Earth 65 million years ago and caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. Asteroids continue to move around the solar system and sometimes their orbits intersect with Earth’s orbit. It is only a matter of time before another asteroid collides with the planet we call home.
Asteroid Hunters is an IMAX movie that explores these giant killers, the scientists who find and track them, and plans for avoiding an asteroid strike. The movie also discusses what steps could be taken to minimize the loss of life if a collision was imminent. Asteroid Hunters is presented by IMAX in association with Huahuang Pictures. It was directed by W.D. Hogan and produced by Jini Durr as well as Philip Groves who was also the writer. Daisy Ridley, who played Rey in the Star Wars sequel trilogy, provides the narration. The movie is currently playing at several IMAX theatres world-wide with more theaters to follow.
Interview With Philip Groves
I had the opportunity to speak with Philip Groves, who produced as well as wrote the screenplay for Asteroid Hunters. According to Philip, IMAX was the only way to really tell this story since asteroids tend to be big, brash, and noisy. Since many IMAX theaters are found in science centers and museums, this format would also bring this documentary to the most appreciative audience. He made the film to be a hybrid of a documentary and a Hollywood film. Philip stated that the film was written as a documentary with accurate science and fact, but it was produced and shot like a Hollywood movie. In one part of the movie, the size of some of these near-Earth asteroids is visualized by showing a graphic of some of these asteroids hovering over famous landmarks around the world to show scale. In response to my question of how he came up with this idea, Philip responded that since the movie is about the possible influence of asteroids on us, he wanted to show just how big these asteroids are compared to landmarks that spoke about people and our presence on Earth, a them-versus-us theme. “Since the IMAX format is so much about experience, we felt this would be a great opportunity to kind of achieve many things in a small space.”
He continued expressing that the scientists are the real heroes of the film. Those from NASA and JPL really helped open doors and provided some great access for the filmmakers. Not only did Philip meet with those scientists, but also scientists from the Rand Corporation and the Aerospace Corporation, the latter of which is one of the leaders in planetary defense. One of the highlights of the project for Philip was working with Daisy Ridley. He shared that the most fun part of the project was working with the scientists and doing the research. However, according to him, the coolest moment was when they were filming a Delta IV Heavy rocket taking off from Vandenburg Air Force Base. “No other cameras were allowed to get as close to the rocket as our IMAX cameras were.” They had two cameras in protective coverings right on the launchpad. During the launch, both coverings shattered but the cameras were still able to catch the lift-off up close. He also mentioned that this was the largest rocket ever filmed for IMAX.
I asked Philip what he wanted audiences to take away from this film. He shared, “I want them to know that keeping an asteroid from hitting Earth is not science fiction… it is the most preventable natural disaster there is. There is nothing we can’t do when we are working together and leveraging the power of science. That is what I want them to walk away with.” Philip concluded the interview by stating that this movie is really focused on showing that first one has to understand the problem and then know what you are going to do about it. There also must be plans for two potential outcomes: not finding an asteroid in time so we need to get people out of the way or, better still, prevent it from happening in the first place. “The way we keep it from happening is to find it before it finds us.”
Go See Asteroid Hunters
I am grateful for the time Philip Groves took to speak with me. While I have not seen the entire movie, from the extended clips I was able to view, Asteroid Hunters looks incredible. It is the first movie to really show what the effect of an asteroid impact on Earth would look like. Not only is this film educational, but it is also very entertaining. I can’t wait to see Asteroid Hunters on the giant IMAX screen with the full sound effects. For more information on this movie and to find a theatre near you, visit the IMAX website.
Here is the trailer to tie you over.