"Time's Up" & "Light of the Valkyries"
Griffith Observatory & Planetarium
Review by Ross Anthony

Los Angeles hosts a beautiful sandy coastline, family friendly Disneyland, star-studded Hollywood, and the exhilarating rides at Universal Studios, so the quiet left-brained dome that sits modestly above the city lights might be missed as one of the area's rich attractions.

"Left-brained" isn't completely fair. This destination inspires wonder and creative thought. The winding drive up the mountain whets the appetite for the mystery above. Be sure to leave extra time for parking (especially on weekends) as this can be a challenge. There is a small parking lot at the top, but most goers park along the two scenic roads that wind up from Los Feliz Blvd. The west route seems less traveled, so give that a try if you haven't in the past. But again, be ready to park and walk a few blocks up.

The structure itself is beautiful and stately, and the view, spectacular. Follow the pathway around to the back for an even more breathtaking city view. Follow the steps and signs to the telescope. During the day, you'll only be able to ogle the telescope itself and not the heavens through it; but the massive sky-eye is still worth the short walk. It struck me that these tools, which help us better see and understand our place in the universe, look eerily similar to the big guns of war. I was inspired to imagine a world in which every country's army was fitted with heaven-aimed telescopes instead of angry canons.

Inside, we followed the call of a curator promising to light up the Tesla coil which only happens once an hour. He told the captivating tale of Nikola Tesla with enthusiasm, and punctuated his speech with intermittent jolts of electricity that sent lightning bolts from the coil. I went home and researched Tesla further -- a fascinating character.

The curator for the Foucault Pendulum also proved to be both entertaining and incredibly informative. We asked him a great deal of questions from the Coriolis effect to why division by zero tends to infinity. He knew his pendulum.

Sadly, the two planetarium presentations that day weren't quite up to the quality we'd seen there in the past. Both are narrated by a live actor walking in the twilight carrying a nightlight-like prop among the reclining audience. The presence of a live person opens the show with a warm glowy personal touch. However, as the show progresses, a well made audio recording would have made for a crisper solution, as the live voice falters on occasion and words occasionally blur despite the actors' best efforts to remain present. I believe this is not the fault of these particular actors (they did a splendid job), but a natural weakness to the well-intentioned, in-person narrated show idea. Additionally, it appeared to me that two types of projection were utilized: digital and optical. I find the optical projection to have a crisper image with truer blacks, hence more apt at giving you the feeling of lying under the night sky.

Light of the Valkyries opens with and repeats a "Lord of the Rings" motif echoing the auroras' crown-like rings around the poles when seen from space. Viking mythology and some thoughts on Richard Wagner (his music is the soundtrack) are also added to the narrative. I found all of that text only mildly interesting, and rather distracting from the main attraction -- the auroras that I'd come to see. The presentation splendidly shows how events on the sun prompt the auroras via energetic charged particles flowing along Earth's magnetic field and even bending it. The graphics of that field are displayed very well, and the view from space moving around our Earth at the time solidifies this difficult-to-picture invisible force. I also learned what "borealis" means and, to my surprise, that the northern and southern auroras occur at the same time. Fascinating. However, the auroras themselves, when displayed in a way meant to match what we'd see were we to venture toward an inhospitable pole, are slightly underwhelming. Academically, they give us a visual, but that sense of sweeping awe, sadly has no sweep. So, if you're hoping to save yourself a long trek and the promise of frostbite in order to cross auroras off your bucket list, I'm thinking "Light of the Valkyries" isn't your ticket.

Time's Up opens with some slightly facetious apocalyptic visuals which are, admittedly, kind of fun. Of course, the production delights in pointing out that, post 2012, we are all still here. Believers in the 12/21/12 end of the world theory might likely cry, "Hindsight is 20/20." "Time's up" matter-of-factly shows us the position of all of the planets at that particular date, and how most of the claims of unusual, rare, or fantastical cosmic events, simply didn't occur in the skies on 12/21.

The presentation then takes us back in time to, well, the start of it -- the big bang. But the big bang, isn't so big or bangy. Explanations as to how the telescope can be thought of as a time machine (because light takes time to travel through the huge expanses of space) fall short of really showing/demonstrating this concept. With a medium like this, why not show us, instead of simply narrating such a conceptual idea? Similarly, the space/time theory which is said to wrap around the universe, is even harder to wrap around the head. "Time's up" talks it up while giving the viewer a roller coaster ride through the classic "bowling ball" dips in the bed sheet analogy. Again, this is but a shallow, underdeveloped A/V demonstration of a difficult topic. Time, as defined by the cosmos, to the death of our own solar system is discussed. But I don't recall any hypothesis as to the eventuality of the universe itself.

"Time's Up" opens with a welcome sense of humor, but does not reprise it. Since the 12/21/12 end theory derives out of incorrect interpretations of the Mayan Calendar, the Mayan civilization is briefly discussed, their monuments constructed visually and destructed to show the effects of time. Sadly, how the current western Calendar came to be (particularly leap day) is not explored here. Unfortunately, the presentation dismisses the whole idea of measuring time with calendars and watches and never returns to it. Sure, time is essentially of a cosmic creation, but to dismiss its measurement in human terms misses an opportunity to connect a wonderfully mysterious unknown with an everyday user-ready concrete knowledge. That miss can alienate audiences. That said, I enjoyed "Times Up." It stirred more of that sense of wonder and awe than the aurora production.

Please don't let my "less than enthusiastic" reviews of these particular "shows" cause you hesitation to give the planetarium a go. It's a magical place. In fact, my group was talking with another group who had caught these two shows and the one preceding as well. They said "Centered in the Universe" is the one to see. Oh, and counter intuitively, I suggest sitting in the rear seats. That way you can see more of the sky as you lay back.

All in all, we had a full and splendid time at Griffith observatory (and we weren't even able to fit the fabulous lower level into our day). So, I still highly recommend this LA destination.

A note on membership: Look into it! Besides supporting a great cause, you'll get very tangible benefits. The guaranteed parking alone should clinch the deal. But you also get reduced planetarium tickets and you don't have to wait in the "general public" line -- you can enter before everyone else. Cool.

-- Books by Author/Illustrator Ross Anthony --

  • Griffith Observatory & Planetarium. Copyright © 2013.
  • Based on a 6/16/13 (Father's Day) visit to Griffith Observatory & Planetarium in Los Angeles, CA.

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Copyright © 1998-2022 Ross Anthony, Author - Speaker - Solo World Circumnavigator In addition to reviewing films and interviewing celebs at HollywoodReportCard.com, traveling the world, composing great music, motivational speaking, Mr. Anthony also runs his own publishing company in the Los Angeles area. While traversing the circumference of the planet writing books and shooting documentaries, Mr. Anthony has taught, presented for, worked &/or played with locals in over 30 countries & 100 cities (Nairobi to Nagasaki). He's bungee-jumped from a bridge near Victoria Falls, wrestled with lions in Zimbabwe, crashed a Vespa off a high mountain road in Taiwan, and ridden a dirt bike across the States (Washington State to Washington DC). To get signed books ("Rodney Appleseed" to "Jinshirou") or schedule Ross to speak check out: www.RossAnthony.com or call 1-800-767-7186. Go into the world and inspire the people you meet with your love, kindness, and whatever it is you're really good at. Check out books by Ross Anthony. Rand() functions, Pho chicken soup, rollerblading, and frozen yogurt (w/ blueberries) also rock! (Btw, rand is short for random. It can also stand for "Really Awkward Nutty Dinosaurs" -- which is quite rand, isn't it?) Being alive is the miracle. Special thanks to Ken Kocanda, HAL, Jodie Keszek, Don Haderlein, Mom and Pops, my family, R. Foss, and many others by Ross Anthony. Galati-FE also deserves a shout out. And thanks to all of you for your interest and optimism. Enjoy great films, read stirring novels, grow.

Last Modified: Thursday, 20-Jun-2013 16:01:19 PDT