Judge Jim Thomas prefers the galaxy clusters with cashews.
The Hubble Space Telescope: Mankind's version of the Total Perspective Vortex.
Launched in 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope quickly became a multi-million-dollar punch line when NASA discovered that the telescope's mirror was flawed, leaving the device that was supposed to peer into the depths of the cosmos with a severe case of farsighted. Fortunately, NASA was able to outfit Hubble with a set of contact lens (seriously) to correct the problem, and scientists have spent the better part of the past two decades repeatedly picking up their jaws as Hubble sent back pictures more wondrous that its designers could have possibly imagined. From galaxy clusters to black holes to stars being born, the universe's sights were brought to us by Hubble.
Space exploration and IMAX is a match made in the stars, and IMAX took full advantage of it, getting NASA to send IMAX cameras into space to film key events. IMAX: Hubble incorporates IMAX footage shot over the past twenty years, but focuses on two key subjects: STS-125, the 2009 Space Shuttle mission that was the fourth and final mission servicing the Hubble telescope, and some CGI renderings of some of Hubble's more impressive discoveries. Both sequences are awe-inspiring from a purely visual perspective, but at the same time, they illustrate the inherent weaknesses of the IMAX documentary format. The emphasis on the visceral audio-visual experience—IMAX's raison d'être—makes it harder to engage the intellect. For instance, how is the raw imagery from Hubble converted into the final images, or what led to the conclusion the "Pillars of Creation" are, in fact, stars in the process of being born? You need a talking head to explain those sorts of questions, but talking heads are a waste of the IMAX format. The result is that the film sorely lacks depth.
In a nice little nod to Hubble's initial optical woes, the credits are initially displayed out of focus, resolving into clarity as though you have put on your glasses. Heh.
Video, as you would expect, is stunning, despite the absence of 3D. There is one drawback: The original aspect ratio was 1.44:1, but the image has been matted to 1.78:1, so that a fair amount of image is lost from the top and bottom. The cropping is more noticeable on the various CGI sequences, as they were clearly designed to make maximum use of the 1.44:1 frame. The surround mix is good, but oddly lacking in the lower registers (Dear IMAX: Not everyone has a 12,000 watt sound system; please punch up the low end a bit. Just sayin'). The narration by Leonardo DiCaprio is decent, but he never really sounds comfortable with the material, and his reedy tenor doesn't quite have the gravitas the material demands (The court was spoiled recently by Liam Neeson narrating The Wildest Dream: Conquest of Everest). The sole extra is an 8-minute making-of featurette, which borders on the superficial. The two key production challenges—namely the research, design, and creation of the various CGI sequences and the use of an IMAX camera in space—are pretty much glossed over, mirroring the weakness of the main feature.
Trivia: An IMAX camera is loaded with (literally) a mile of film, which is good for a mere 8 minutes of filming. The IMAX team trained the astronauts relentlessly on the film schedule—what sequences needed to be filmed, etc. Writer/Director Toni Myers joked with the astronauts, saying, "If an alien comes up and looks in the camera, don't shoot any film, because it's not on the list."
Those looking to understand how the Hubble operates will be disappointed. While IMAX: Hubble fuels the imagination while neglecting the intellect, there's no denying that the images in this film will take your breath away. Don't believe me?
Towards the end of the film, we're shown images of galaxies near the edge of the observable universe, 10 billion light years away—so far away that their light began its journey to us billions of years before the Earth even existed. That we can even peer that far into the depths of time and space is a vindication of the Hubble designer; the fact that we can grasp that concept is a vindication of the defendant.
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