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SXSW Review: “The Hunt for Planet B” Explores the Search for Another Life-Sustaining Planet While Also Taking an Introspective Look at Our Own

Written by: Matt Patti | March 20th, 2021

Director Nathaniel Kahn of THE HUNT FOR PLANET B | Credit: Zoë S.

The Hunt for Planet B (Nathaniel Kahn, 2021) 3 out of 4 stars.

It’s no surprise that humans are further now than ever before in exploring outer space. However, we’ve still got a long way to go to find planets that could sustain life as Earth dies. This is one of NASA’s top current priorities, though, and they’re up to the task with extremely advanced technology and brilliant scientists. The Hunt for Planet B dives into NASA’s efforts to explore the planets of the TRAPPIST-1 system via the James Webb Space Telescope, which is set to launch in the fall of 2021 and replace the Hubble as NASA’s primary mission.

The film features interviews with some of NASA’s top scientists. Of course, they’re busy people and the majority of the interviews are on-the-spot at their work locations or in vehicles en route to a specific place, not in a studio with the subjects sitting down, which actually adds to the authenticity of the documentary and shows the hard work ethic of these astrophysicists. Even though they’re on a different intelligence level than most people, these experts are excellent at explaining advanced scientific ideas in layman’s terms. They use everyday real-world examples to illustrate their high-level processes and it’s riveting to hear. These demonstrations are accompanied by helpful visuals and animated graphics to illustrate what is being talking about.

The James Webb Space Telescope at Northrup Grumman in THE HUNT FOR PLANET B ©Nathaniel Kahn

As fascinating as the technology and space exploration featured in the film is, The Hunt for Planet B also does a good job of advocating for saving the planet we live on now. The experts state that it could take centuries to get to the stars, so even if we find a planet that’s habitable, we still need to ensure we do what it takes to make sure we’re still alive and well on Earth for when that time comes. This section of the film takes place near the end and is a fitting conclusion. However, the documentary unfortunately takes a few left turns elsewhere that do not exactly work. At times, the film goes off track talking about specific subjects that are somewhat related to the focus of the doc but nowhere near as interesting as the main material. The film also gets slightly repetitive, occasionally, dragging on a bit past this halfway point.

Overall, though, The Hunt for Planet B is an engaging documentary that teaches the viewer much about what’s going on at NASA today. The search for a planet like Earth is a monumental task but the film shows the unique, advanced tactics NASA is using and the hard work and precision by its dedicated scientists that will make it possible. But, as the film addresses, these exciting new possibilities should not sway our efforts in saving Mother Earth. Even if we get to venture to a new planet in the future, we cannot forget our original home.

Astronomers at the Lick Observatory in THE HUNT FOR PLANET B ©Nathaniel Kahn

Matt Patti has enjoyed voicing his opinions on films from a young age. He has lived in the Baltimore, Maryland, area since 2015 and is a graduate of Stevenson University’s Film & Moving Image program. Matt is currently back at Stevenson University, working as the School of Design, Arts, and Communication's Studio Manager.

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