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Hubble 3D
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by Jay Seaver

"A welcome reminder of the vastness and beauty of the Universe."
4 stars

The Hubble Space Telescope did not make a great first impression; its launch in 1989 was quickly followed by the discovery that a warped mirror rendered it no more powerful than ground-based telescopes. This got a lot of publicity, far more than the later repairs and upgrades got, which is a terrible shame. As "Hubble 3-D" attempts to demonstrate, the Hubble's legacy should not be the manufacturing defect that the beginning of its life, but the steady stream of amazing images and data it has provided us with since.

Hubble 3-D spends some time tracking the instrument's history, from footage of it being assembled on the ground to its launch on the thirty-first space shuttle mission (STS-31) to the repair mission on STS-61 to the more recent debate on whether or not to allow it to expire as it reached the end of its operation lifespan. It's no spoiler to say that the decision was made to upgrade its sensors, and so the majority of the time we spend in Earth orbit is with the crew of STS-125, particularly commander Scott Altman and mission specialists Michael Good, Michael Massimino, and Megan McArthur.

The footage of the mission is impressive, as it can't help but be: No matter what issues one might have with 3-D when applied to regular feature films, I imagine that few would deny that it and the large IMAX screen are useful in this context, allowing the audience to experience the full range of movement possible in a free-fall environment in an immersive way that no other medium can. The clarity of the exterior shots when the astronauts are doing the repair work on Hubble is amazing, as well - large format film and no atmosphere does wonders. The only downside is that there's not much movement possible in the shuttle's bay, and the innards of Hubble are so densely packed that, while the narration describes the difficulties faced in the repair, it is often very difficult to see first-hand.

While that's a bit disappointing, the pictures we get as a result of those repairs and upgrades certainly are not. Much of it is technically computer-generated imagery, but that's necessary; the Hubble doesn't have an eyepiece that an IMAX camera could be fastened to. What it does have is sensors and stabilizers that allow it to take very high-resolution photographs, with enough parallax to make three-dimensional modeling possible. One of the most impressive demonstrations of this comes in a zoom into the Orion Nebula, a "stellar nursery" that provides an uncommonly clear view of hundreds of solar systems forming in gaseous cocoons which feature comet-tails because of the intense solar wind being produced by the central star. It ends with an image of one of these systems, a snapshot of what our own star system may have looked like five billion years ago, which is as beautiful as it is awe-inspiring.

The film could do with maybe packing a few more moments like that into its brief running time. There are moments which could be cut or re-used footage from director Toni Myers's Space Station 3-D or other NASA films, informative as a kid's first introduction to spaceflight but not exactly Hubble-specific. The earnest narration (provided by Leonardo DiCaprio) occasionally asks the question of whether there may be other life out there, but exoplanets are not among the images we're given (as powerful as it is, some things are still too small and too far away for great images).

Especially since what we can see is so amazing that there's no need to undercut it. "Hubble" finishes with a sequence that can legitimately be called awesome without devaluing the word, a glimpse into the furthest reaches of the Universe that reveals not just how tiny our world is in the grand scheme of things, but also a hint of that scheme itself. It's a humbling sight, the sort to make one exit the theater with shivers on an unseasonably warm day - a sensation worth treasuring and which ignites (or reignites) the curiosity of those who see it.

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originally posted: 03/23/10 03:34:39
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2010 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.

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  19-Mar-2010 (G)
  DVD: 29-Mar-2011


  DVD: 29-Mar-2011

Directed by
  Toni Myers

Written by
  Toni Myers


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