A farewell visit to the London Planetarium

I've mentioned here before the news that the London Planetarium is to become celebrity-themed, and then the new that Tussauds were allowing free admission in the penultimate week. Well, I decided to take advantage of this offer, and so went down to Baker Street to see the planetarium show on Saturday morning.

When I got there and saw the massive queue, I nearly changed my mind. But then I realised that that was just the queue for the waxworks, to just see the free planetarium show I had to go in the group entrance. Having found this around the side of the building, I thought there was something up, as no-one was waiting there. But the security guard was happy to give me a complimentary ticket and told me to walk up the stairs and wait in the cordened off area.

At the top of the stairs there was a little are, seperated by a flimsy elastic barrier from a crowd of tired people who had evidently just finished walking around the waxworks bit. There was no-one on my side of the barrier, other than a waxwork of Steven Hawking (who, call me stupid, I did think was real for a second or so). So, seeing as everyone else just seemed to be walking up some steps into the planetarium, I skipped under the barrier and joined them.

The show itself was disappointingly short, at just over ten minutes, and involved much craning of the neck to look upwards. Essentially it involved some nice graphics, zooming out from Earth into the Solar System, the galaxy and the universe, alongside a fairly simplistic commentary and a slightly irritating orchestral and choral soundtrack. Whilst it was all quite pretty to look at, the show didn't seem to utilise the whole dome-ness of the screen very much, as it was produced from the perspective of the camera moving, rather than being in a fixed position with the sky rotating. The action also happened at one 'side' of the screen, rather than using the whole space, so there was no need to spin around and get the full 360 degrees effect.

The planetarium show comes at the end of the waxworks tour (if you buy the full ticket), and so you exit into the obligitory gift shop, where some annoying people were trying to flog your-face-in-a-glass-box souvenirs.

I discussed before some of the reasons that Tussauds might want to update the show. Having seen it, I can see that it needs to be changed. But if all they can do with it is project a fairly dull film onto the ceiling then it won't be that interesting, and I don't see why that can't be done in the main bit of the building. Maybe Aardman Animations (who are apparently working on the project) will do something good, but I would have preferred to see some continuation of the stargazing theme, rather than another celebrity-obsessed feature.

I've written all this up for an article on Wikinews, by the way - London Planetarium closes to make way for celebrity-themed show - for posterity. As I mention in that article, London won't always be planetarium-less, as the Royal Observatory in Greenwich is planning to re-open its planetarium, folloing a mult-million pound redevelopment, in early 2007. And as that's part of a national museum, receiving funding from the DCMS, you can bet that it will have a bit more of a educational agenda than the Tussauds Group, which is now owned by the Government of Dubai...