Journey to the Stars

Planetarium show at the American Museum of Natural History.

Planetarium shows should never, under any circumstances, feature the words “Now that’s STAR power.” That’s not even a fun bad pun. It’s just stupid, especially when delivered by Whoopi Goldberg in the broadest possible manner. Just … no.

But that kind of distracting idiocy turns up all too often in Journey to the Stars, the American Museum of Natural History’s much-lauded new space show. I understand that the filmmakers have to try to appeal to a broad spectrum of ages and education levels, but is that kind of patter really the way to do it? Does that truly appeal to kids, or to someone’s condescending conception of a kid? The script for the show reveals a dismaying lack of faith in the material, which is mystifying because the material itself is fascinating! Why anyone felt the need to dress it up in a lot of dumb banter and hire Whoopi, of all people, to deliver it is beyond me.

The show (which the museum insists upon calling a journey, as in “Sit back and prepare for your journey”) is about stars and related celestial bodies—different types of stars, their life cycles, our own Sun. It features stunning images from incredibly powerful telescopes, as well as gorgeously detailed computer simulations, but barely dips into its subject matter, much of it based on intriguing new research that I would have loved to have heard more about. In other words, the show is a tease: visually stunning but intellectually tantalizing and thus ultimately unsatisfying. I’m a dork, yes, but if dorkiness can’t be indulged at a museum, then where?