Friday, March 19, 2010

Review: "Hubble 3D"

There's a moment in "Hubble 3D," the new IMAX film, that may make you gnaw your fingernails down to the stubs. Two astronauts, working for hours in bulky spacesuits, are working inside the guts of the Hubble Telescope to effect some tricky repairs.

One tiny slip among the delicate circuit boards and lenses, and Hubble's billions of dollars worth of technology is instantly transformed into so many pounds of space junk. It's especially poignant because the May 2009 mission is one of the final flights for the NASA space shuttle program.

Faced with budget cuts, NASA officials at first were just going to let Hubble -- which has been projecting amazing images from space for nearly two decades -- rot in orbit. A legislative push got the funds for a final mission to repair and upgrade Hubble.

"Hubble 3D" is the result of that blessedly successful endeavor. Writer/director Toni Myers -- and IMAX veteran -- splits the 43-minute film into alternating segments chronicling the mission to repair Hubble, shot by the astronauts themselves, and wading through the resulting images of their work.

Presented in drop-your-jaw 3D, both sets of images make for a fascinating and engaging journey into space.

Narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio, "Hubble" occasionally wanders into self-serving grandiosity: DiCaprio describes the launch mission for the telescope as setting "the great eagle" adrift "to soar in orbit." But the view is so breathtaking, that dollop of schmaltz doesn't detract for long.

The astronauts, with their all-American can-do spirit, might come across as caricatures, except that they're so serious and focused on their mission that we find it impossible to feel anything but empathy for their dedication.

"Now I know why surgeons go 'Yoo-hoo!' when they pull something out," one says after completing seven hours of difficult repairs. At least surgeons can scratch their noses.
Then there's the exploration through the vastness of the universe, which the 3D images translate into a virtual expedition.

As we watch whole galaxies whiz by and dive deep into the Orion Nebula -- ''a nursery for stars'' -- the experience is not unlike sitting in the captain's chair aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise, with our commands sending us hurtling in whatever direction we want.

"Hubble 3D" is an IMAX film that stokes our twin passions for technology and exploration. Time to boldly go.

3.5 stars

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