The newly resurgent 3D format gets an out-of-this-world showcase in “Hubble 3D.” Structured around a tricky NASA service-and-repair mission, the latest Imax venture from producer-director Toni Myers (“Space Station 3D”) lingers to transfixing effect on images captured by the famous telescope, inspiring the viewer’s awe in the possibilities of giant-screen cinema as well as the mysteries of space. Opening Friday in Imax venues worldwide, this educational eye-popper should prove an excellent draw for science lovers of all ages.
Shortly after the Hubble Space Telescope was launched in April 1990, scientists discovered a tiny yet damaging flaw in its primary mirror, which was rectified by a crew of astronauts in 1993. Since then, the telescope — roughly the size of a school bus, and the most sophisticated of its kind ever put into orbit — has undergone regular service missions, enabling ever sharper, clearer and wider-ranging glimpses of the universe.
Pic documents the most recent of these excursions, the STS-125 Mission — which, though initially canceled in the wake of the 2003 Columbia shuttle crash, went ahead successfully in May 2009. A 700-lb. Imax 3D camera was installed in the shuttle’s cargo bay, while Myers and d.p. James Neihouse trained the astronauts to use it, also positioning HD cameras throughout the spacecraft.
Apart from shots of the astronauts going about their routines inside the shuttle and marveling at the properties of zero gravity — which turns out to be ideally suited to 3D, as floating objects provide a natural depth of field — most of the footage is devoted to the spacewalks undertaken by those repairing the telescope. Narrator Leonardo DiCaprio (who also did the voiceover honors for global-warming docu “The 11th Hour”) works hard to impart a sense of the mission’s danger, enumerating the various risks to the astronauts’ safety as well as the many points at which the repair procedure hits a snag.
Fascinating as much of this footage is, the docu’s strongest images are to be found elsewhere. As though keenly aware that the sight of a shuttle launch never loses its thrill, Myers and Neihouse film the blast-off twice — first from a distance, so you can appreciate the big-picture spectacle of a column of flame against a blue sky, and then from up close, so you can feel the roar of the rockets, an effect that should make any theater quake if its sound system is working properly.
Most mesmerizing of all are the photographs taken by Hubble itself, expertly enhanced through computer-visualization techniques applied by the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. Consequently, “Hubble 3D” comes as close as any film to reproducing the curious, cosmic sensation of floating through outer space; with the bonus of the telescope’s infrared camera and ultrasharp focus, pic affords tremendous views of everything from the young stars emerging from the Orion Nebula to a black hole in the more distant Virgo Cluster.
It’s an experience so pure and vivid, you may actually wish for less of DiCaprio’s voiceover — which, though useful in explaining what you’re looking at, becomes a bit of a distraction. In space, no one can hear you narrate.