Hubble mission takes audiences on thrilling odyssey

IMAX documentary follows the final repairs to the obiting telescope

April 09, 2010|By Michael Sragow, The Baltimore Sun

"Hubble 3D" is a sublime thrill machine. It sates your senses and fills your mind. Clocking in, like most "classic" IMAX presentations, at a mere 43 minutes, it brings audiences microscopically close to the crew who repaired and updated the Hubble Space Telescope a year ago. It also showcases the galvanizing imagery that Hubble caught because of their heroics and the right stuff of four previous Hubble service crews.

When one astronaut totters on a "boot plate" as he practices ultra-advanced mechanics during a spacewalk, you wonder whether, in space — or in IMAX theaters generating 12,500 watts of digital sound — anyone can hear you scream. When Frank Summers' visual (and intellectual) magicians at Baltimore's Space Telescope Science Institute take you on a revelatory joyride through the universe, they reduce you to gaping awe.

Producer-director Toni Myers presents freakishly detailed shots from an IMAX 3-D camera set in the payload of the space shuttle Atlantis. These otherworldly views of men at work might cause skeptics to flash back to the "Capricorn One" scenario and imagine they were produced on a James Cameron-level soundstage.

But the images Summers conjures from Hubble data of a universe in constant flux boast a grandeur that beggars the imagination and compels assent. Cosmic death throes and birth pangs register either as planetarium psychedelics — or the first verses of Genesis as illustrated by absinthe-loaded artists.

The thrust of the narration, spoken by Leonardo DiCaprio, is that if you step back far enough from all this glittering chaos, you can see a weblike pattern to multitudes of galaxies. You can also wonder anew at the freshly seen beauty of Earth.

Filmmaker Myers prepares us for that double vision with an intergalactic balancing act.

Amid a flood of NASA acronyms she keeps the trajectory of the action clear as astronauts install instruments designed to increase Hubble's power and refinement. She presents enough thumbnail sketches of the astronauts to make us warm to them as they grapple with resistant screws and bolts and the intricacies of their second skins: their spacesuits. These scientist- or engineer-explorers are Iron Man's vulnerable real-life cousins. Like him, they sometimes learn the value of brute force, especially when one of them has to tear off a Hubble handle that stands in their way.

When the ideas behind the film demand it, Myers unleashes Summers and his image wizards. They take us where no filmmakers have gone before. Most spectacularly, infrared and ultraviolet vision combined allows us to see how stars of various ages coexist in a swath of universe. But the glories of this movie's visions go beyond color-coding, encompassing outer-space clouds that are called "The Pillars of Creation," proto-solar systems known as "tadpoles," and gale-blasted "canyons" with streaks of nascent stars.

The movie's man-made marvels are equally transporting. A liftoff in IMAX 3-D is like a comic-book explosion made real and palpable. You feel the heat and strain of metal as a controlled explosion ricochets through your skull. But the movie is just as transcendent when the IMAX camera lets you study the fine directions and subtle movements of the Atlantis crew as they gently fix and adjust the telescope. You'll believe they can fly, all right. But even more incredibly for movie action heroes, you'll believe they can feel and think. It's the visceral and poetic one-two punch of "Hubble 3D" that leaves audiences revved up and wanting more.

michael.sragow@baltsun.com

MPAA rating: G
Credits: Directed and produced by Toni Myers. An Imax and Warner Bros. Pictures release.
Running time: 0:43.
Opens today at the Maryland Science Center, 601 Light St. Tickets are $8. Call 410-685-2370 or go to mdsci.org for showtimes.

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