Review: ‘Blast!’

Adventuresome spin on breakthrough science should wow 'em in targeted educational venues.

The disastrous launch of a balloon toting an innovative sub-millimeter telescope sends “Blast!” director Paul Devlin to Sweden, then to Antarctica, on the trail of his scientist brother Mark — who, together with Toronto physicist Barth Netterfield, is heading this seat-of-the-pants operation. Though it touches on astrophysical principles, illustrated with spectacular, NASA-generated mock-ups of deep space, the docu’s dramatic payload revolves more around earthbound challenges posed by the launch. Despite the gratuitous insertion of a religious-vs.-agnostic debate, this adventuresome spin on breakthrough science should wow ’em in targeted educational venues after bowing June 12 at Gotham’s Cinema Village.

Helmer Devlin (“Power Trip,” “Slam Nation”) captures the essence of hands-on scientific research: Far removed from the usual sterile NASA protocol, the telescope is largely assembled and calibrated by the head astrophysicists’ graduate students, collectively roughing it miles from home. Crossing the same Antarctic terrain as Werner Herzog’s “Encounters at the End of the World,” the pic climaxes in absurdism worthy of Herzog’s doomed mad geniuses: the desperate hunt for a small white cylinder packed with incalculably valuable data, now invisible against vast stretches of ice and snow.

Blast!

Production

A Devlin production, in association with BBB Storyville/Discovery Channel Canada/SVT Sweden/YLE/FST Finland/ARTE France. Produced by Paul Devlin, Claire Missanelli. Executive producer, Nick Fraser. Co-producer, Louise Rosen. Directed, edited by Paul Devlin.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Devlin; editor, Devlin; co-editor, Laura Minnear; music, Richard Martinez. Reviewed at Soho House, New York, May 27, 2009. (In 2008 Hot Docs Film Festival, Toronto.) Running time: 74 MIN.

With

Mark Devlin, Barth Netterfield.
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