There's been a lot of talk about 3D lately, which you obviously know, and even the new digital IMAX 3D, which has been growing in popularity. However, as the hilarious comedian Aziz Ansari noted in a well-publicized rant/joke last year, this new Digital IMAX 3D that has sprouted up in numerous theaters across the country, isn't REAL IMAX 3D, not by a long shot. While these new IMAX screens are larger than the traditional movie screen, they still pale in comparison to a real IMAX screen and thankfully I got to see Hubble 3D the way it was meant to be seen, and, man, is it ever astonishing.
Back in the day, I used to go to IMAX screenings at a huge IMAX theater back home, even without 3D and even then, the sheer size of the screen and the way they filmed in the IMAX format, really made you a part of the film more than a traditional movie. Now with the IMAX 3D on a screen that size, it's advanced so far that the disconnect of actually being in a theater is almost practically removed and you literally feel like you're actually there, with the "there" in this case, being outer space.
This 40-minute film explores NASA's final service mission to the super-telescope Hubble, Mission STS-125, and we also get a bit of history of how Hubble first came to be, we get to see how the astronauts trained for this 13-day mission and we even see how this mission almost never happened, after the crash of the Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003. Of course, not a whole lot of time is spent on these details, but they serve as a nice succinct background to the mission at hand. The film also gives us probably the most up-close experience to a space shuttle launch you can imagine, with a camera and microphone in a "blast box" only 57 meters from the launching pad and I could honestly feel the theater vibrate when the shuttle was blasting off. That's how true the sound was. Amazing. After the blast off, of course, is when the real magic starts, with some of the most gorgeous views from space ever captured on film, with even some real-life drama thrown in to boot.
The reason for this mission was to make several repairs to the Hubble telescope and if I simply described what they had to do - upgrading the telescope's wide-field camera, installing new gyroscopes - it would sound rather boring on paper, but the extreme conditions they had to work in, and the simply exquisite views they get while working, really up the proverbial ante. One thing that was quite amazing was that, at orbiting speed, they go around the Earth once every 90 minutes, which means that every 45 minutes, it would change from day to night, which is just one of the many challenges they had up there. The space suits they wear are quite fragile, and just the tiniest rip or tear could end up costing the astronaut's life. What amazed me even more is that while we hear these amazing little factoids from the film's narrator, Leonardo DiCaprio, who does a fine job as well, I was rather shocked at how upbeat and chipper these guys were in such strenuous conditions. These seven astronauts - Commander Scott Altman, Pilot Gregory C. Johnson, Mission Specialist Dr. John M. Grunsfeld, Mission Specialist Dr. Michael J. Massimino, Mission Specialist Dr. K. Megan McArthur, Mission Specialist Dr. Andrew J. Feustel and Mission Specialist Michael T. Good - are never without a smile on their faces throughout the film, as we also get glimpses into daily shuttle life along with the mission they're trying to accomplish. It's also worth noting that the astronauts themselves, primarily Gregory Johnson, actually shot the film, as the shuttle couldn't hold a full film crew.
The footage we see from space is simply stunning, especially in IMAX 3D. Like most stereoscopic 3D films, the goal is not necessarily to break the plane of the screen, with objects coming out at the viewer, but to draw the viewer into the picture. With the enormous size of the screen and the amazing 3D technology, it truly does bring you into the picture more than, likely, any other movie you've seen before, with the gigantic screen dwarfing the rest of the room and making you feel like you're really there. For these 40 minutes, it's almost as if you forget you're in a movie theater watching these events unfold, because this technology brings you in so close you feel as if you could reach out and touch everything yourself. Even in some of the more "mundane" shots, like some preparatory meetings with the astronauts, you feel like you're right in the room with them.
While Leonardo DiCaprio, whose narration adds depth and insight into what we're seeing on the screen, is certainly the biggest star of this show, the real star is director Toni Meyers. One of the most exhilarating aspects of the film is when we get to see the results of the astronauts' hard work: the images from the new and improved Hubble telescope, which Meyers was able to integrate seamlessly - with some amazing super-computer programs - into these "space flights" where it seems that you are actually travelling with the telescope. Not only are these images truly stunning, but the universal implications and possibilities they bring along with them, as DiCaprio eloquently articulates, are almost as amazing as the images themselves. To say that you'll be both educated and entertained by Hubble 3D is an understatement as vast as the enormity of outer space itself.
I'm almost a bit sad that, since there are so few actual real IMAX theaters out there, that not everyone will be able to experience this spectacular film the way that I did. If there's an IMAX theater that's anywhere near a reasonable drive away - even though this is only a 40 minute film - it's well worth the journey to watch this journey unfold in the absolute best way possible: true IMAX 3D. Hubble 3D is a visually dazzling film that not only stimulates your mind and your eyes, but shows you that THIS is what IMAX 3D is really all about.
(Reviewer's Note: You can check out http://www.imax.com/hubble to see if the film is playing in an IMAX theater in your area)