SXSW FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! Humankind’s fascination with the stars is as old as time itself. The allure of making first contact captivates pop culture from Star Trek to Alien and beyond. However, in The Hunt for Planet B, the appeal of space and life outside our solar system goes beyond curiosity to the future survival of humankind. Focusing on the James Webb Space Telescope, the documentary gives audiences a front-row seat to the edges of the known universe.
The Hunt for Planet B follows groups of astrophysicists, engineers, and astronomers who hope to study exoplanets — planets capable of sustaining life. On the cusp of the most significant scientific discovery in history, director Nathaniel Kahn follows these scientists through the challenges and grueling process of creating a telescope to explore the galaxies.
Sara Seager serves as the go-to expert, discussing the history of exoplanets and why now is the most vital moment to discover these wonders of the universe. Along with Seager, Amy Lo is also a driving force throughout the film. Lo works on building the telescope while discussing the impacts it will have for decades to come. However, as the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope draws closer, looming threats of Congressional budget cuts not only threaten the mission but our future life among the stars.
“…follows these scientists through the challenges and grueling process of creating a telescope to explore the galaxies.”
Throughout my experience watching The Hunt for Planet B, I found myself asking, “Is this what the characters from Real Genius would be doing after the credits rolled?” That feeling stayed with me when Seager talks exoplanets while listening to Tears for Fears. Despite being a documentary, I make the comparison to that much-loved comedy because the talking heads in this film are so enthralling. Each person interviewed gives complex information in a relatable format. The film is literally watching the apex of human intelligence create something they only dreamed was possible for the longest time. If space exploration captures your interest, then this compelling documentary is definitely for you.
Notably, the film does use a lot of familiar tropes of other scientific documentaries. These tropes are at times determinantal to the frenetic pace and looming launch deadline. The film takes moments to discuss issues within the scientific community, the history of astronomy, and the environmental shifts occurring on Earth. All relevant topics, which add to the magnitude of the mission, but many could be introduced more cohesively.
Despite these hang-ups, The Hunt for Planet B delivers a captivating viewing experience, showing the sometimes-thin line between science fiction and the true scientific future. You will learn a lot in 90-minutes, and the documentary will have you eagerly awaiting the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (currently set for October 31st, 2021).
The Hunt for Planet B screened at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival.
"…a captivating viewing experience..."