Review: Biosphere documentary 'Spaceship Earth' fails to lift off

Doc details experiment best remembered as the inspiration for the Pauly Shore movie "Bio-Dome"

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

Talk about quarantine. 

"Spaceship Earth" details Biosphere 2, an ambitious 1991 experiment that saw eight researchers enter into a Arizona research facility and wall themselves off from the world for two years. Their mission: to save humanity.  

Inside Biosphere 2 in "Spaceship Earth."

Reality fell drastically short of those expectations, and Biosphere 2 is now a barely-remembered blip on the cultural radar. Matt Wolf's insightful if frustrating documentary details why. 

Biosphere 2 was the name given to the $200 million man-made enclosure that was meant to replicate Earth where a group of Biospherians would live and record data that could be later used to colonize other planets. (It was dubbed Biosphere 2 because the first biosphere, technically, is Earth.) 

At the time, it was treated as a curiosity; today, it's basically a reality TV show. (Take away the research and the sprawling digs and Biosphere 2 is basically "Big Brother.")

The Biospherians weren't scientists, which is one of the cracks in the dam that led to the experiment's failing.

They were instead a group of hippie-types, lead by ringleader John Allen, whom some dubbed a cult figure. 

Meanwhile, there were shortcuts in their experiment that compromised its integrity, mostly involving the air they were breathing inside the facility. Was it scandalous? No. But it fueled the fires of doubters who chalked up Biosphere 2 to quack science.

Director Wolf ("Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project") is at the mercy of the project itself, which fizzled but didn't suffer a fantastic flameout. His documentary lacks the personality and drama that Biosphere 2 also lacked, and central questions about basic human functions within the project are unmentioned.

"Spaceship Earth" shows why Biosphere 2 was such an intriguing idea to begin with, but also why its cultural legacy went poof.


'Spaceship Earth'


Not rated: Language

Running time: 115 minutes