Las Vegas’ Sphere is awe-inspiring, but ‘Postcard from Earth’ disappoints

On a recent trip to Las Vegas, Nevada, I visited the city’s latest bombastic attraction, the Sphere.

Even from the airplane window on my way into the city, the Sphere is shockingly impressive. From the sky, the sprawling, $2 billion USD (roughly $2.7 billion CAD) screen-clad structure — which isn’t actually a sphere — looks more like a giant basketball cut in half that’s sitting on its side.

The Sphere becomes even more spectacular as you get closer to the pricey attraction. It’s big. It’s enormous. And at times, it’s daunting (and confusing). But the overall experience is far from perfect despite how majestic it can sometimes be.

The Sphere’s sprawling display is undeniably impressive.

First, let’s get some of the attraction’s impressive specs out of the way. The Sphere is 366 ft. tall/516 ft. wide, and the single massive screen inside the lopsided globe spans 160,000 sq. ft. and measures 16,000 x 16,000 pixels. Seating-wise, the structure houses 17,600 seats, and 10,000 of them are equipped with a 4D theatre experience-like rumble (which I found mostly annoying).

While sitting in seemingly never-ending traffic in the back seat of a far too hot Uber, I gazed up at the impressive Sphere as various patterns formed across its exterior screen-clad surface, which can be seen from nearly anywhere on Las Vegas’ main strip where there’s a bit of height. The exterior displays are a little blurry up close but still undeniably cool, especially when the Sphere takes the form of an emoji. After arriving at the crowded front entrance, I looked around for signs to figure out where my specific gate was located (spoilers: there aren’t many indicators of where you need to go).

From a purely technical perspective, the Sphere is impressive.

After some help from a Sphere employee, I found my specific entrance and joined a lengthy line. This is when I realized that despite my ticket indicating I should arrive at 9:30pm when doors open, the actual show doesn’t start until 10:30pm. This resulted in me being stuck in the crowded entrance area for a full hour while I browsed concessions, checked out very pricey merchandise, and watched other attendees interact with several uncanny valley humanoid robots.

It’s truly capitalism at its finest. You pay roughly between $149 — $169 USD (about $203 — $230 CAD) for a ticket (in this case, I went to see Darren Aronofsky’s Postcard from Earth) and then are kettled in tight quarters to wait around and spend even more money.

Next, I attempted to hunt down my seat in the relatively high up 400 section. This was my first encounter with the enormous interior screen. It sort of looks like a VR headset display blown up to an absolutely massive scale and not strapped to your face. My awe quickly turned to dread as I looked down at the steep stairs, sat in my uncomfortable plastic seat and looked at the barely-there guard rail. If heights aren’t your thing, I’d suggest avoiding the Sphere because, depending on where your seat is located, you’ll probably experience a strong sense of vertigo.

At this point, I was still mostly hyped and in awe of the massive screen in front of me, despite the less-than-smooth experience so far. Surely, Darren Aronofsky’s Postcard from Earth would blow me away with its impressive visuals and compelling narrative. At times, it managed to impress me, but those attuned to pixel-peeping will notice the endless rows of LED dots that combine to create the screen. While this doesn’t significantly detract from the overall experience of watching content on the world’s biggest screen, it’s still distracting.

What I was far more disappointed in was the actual content. In short, Postcard from Earth isn’t great. It features overwrought narration about the end of the world, bad CG and, overall, is the definition of underwhelming. While there are cool moments, like when a spider jumps out from the screen or a lengthy section that features wildlife footage, I quickly wished I was watching a more traditional nature documentary rather than a poor attempt at adding a narrative to a film focused on the dangers of climate change and capitalism (ironically, while viewing the movie from the multi-billion-dollar Sphere).

Everyone around me seemed to be having a good time, though, with “oohs” and “ahhs” being uttered in abundance, but part of me wonders if those impressed by the Sphere have never worn a VR headset before. Because to me, that’s what the experience replicates, only instead of the virtual reality headset being on your face, it’s sitting in front of you, wrapping around the Sphere’s interior from edge to edge.

Don’t get me wrong, visiting the Sphere is still an undeniably impressive experience and I don’t regret checking it out despite the hefty price tag, but the current key content offering is severely lacking. Maybe my opinion would be different if I had scored tickets to U2 or a Phish show. Hopefully, a more compelling film (please, just show me a bunch of animals frolicking around in the wild) is created in the unique 18K format required to meet the Sphere display’s dimensions.

Until then, Las Vegas’ latest ode to capitalism remains an impressive but ultimately disappointing attraction.

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