Filmed during a 2009 Space Shuttle Atlantis mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope, IMAX: Hubble features some truly breathtaking images of the astronauts working in Earth's orbit. With Leonardo DiCaprio as narrator, the documentary explores not only the immediate patching-up of the telescope but also the vast surrounds of space photographed by Hubble. Although its depth is limited by its short runtime, IMAX: Hubble is powerful and inspiring.
Carried to orbit in 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope at first seemed a costly failure. An incorrectly shaped mirror meant Hubble's images were only as good as those taken from Earth. NASA set about creating a contact lens of sorts to fix Hubble's vision problem, and astronauts aboard a 1993 Space Shuttle Discovery flight repaired the telescope. Since then, Hubble has provided many stunning images, including dramatic shots of Saturn's rings, the Andromeda Galaxy and the Orion Nebula.
IMAX: Hubble, from veteran documentarian Toni Myers, presents the basic background of Hubble and some of its findings before turning to the main event, the spacewalk and telescope repair. Atlantis astronauts took an IMAX camera into space to film, so the images are incredibly vivid. This section of the documentary lasts a few short minutes; apparently the crew only had enough film for about eight minutes of footage. Nevertheless, what is captured of the orbital work is pretty amazing stuff. What would be a complicated job on the ground is made nearly impossible by bulky spacesuits and the lack of gravity. I dare you not to be impressed.
The documentary's weakest component is its somewhat cursory storytelling. Clocking in at just under 44 minutes, IMAX: Hubble only has time to present the essentials about the space program, Hubble and the repair crew. The depth of detail may not be much greater than a classroom documentary, but the visuals more than make up for this flaw. Originally presented in 3D, the film adheres to the IMAX mission of immersing viewers in the environment. Using Hubble data, scientists created the virtual space fly-through of the Orion Nebula featured in the film. The fly-through is pretty impressive, and just when I was ready to dismiss a scene as computer-generated, DiCaprio chimed in to tell me otherwise.
The magic of the space program seems to have diminished in recent years thanks to budget cuts for NASA and the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster. IMAX: Hubble goes a long way to reverse this trend and is a celebration of the possibility of human invention and scientific discovery. The storytelling feels truncated at times, but the beautiful IMAX imagery is stunning. Fans of the space program and casual viewers alike should enjoy this film.
Warner Brothers preserves IMAX: Hubble's stunning visuals in this excellent anamorphic widescreen transfer. Although the native IMAX aspect ratio of 1.44:1 has been changed to 1.78:1 for this DVD, the transfer remains solid. Detail is excellent, especially in scenes filmed with the IMAX camera. Shots in orbit and on the shuttle launch pad in Florida are expansive and border on high-definition quality. Colors are solid, blacks are inky and the transfer avoids the filtered look common to Warner Brothers DVD releases. On the downside, the limitations of standard definition do pop up in several ways. I noticed some compression artifacts, but they never become obtrusive. More noticeable was aliasing, especially in the starfield simulation scenes. I suspect some breathing room and a high-definition bitrate would solve these issues, but the DVD looks pretty great considering.
The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track is flawless, and I was surprised by its depth and range. Most impressive are the shuttle launches, which threaten to level the neighborhood. DiCaprio's narration is crisp and clear (I'd have chosen Morgan Freeman.), and the astronauts' commentary in space is directionally oriented and easy to understand. The subwoofer gets a heavy workout during the launches, and the surrounds are similarly utilized throughout. This is definitely a track to show off your home theater setup. French and Spanish spoken tracks also are available, as are English, French and Spanish subtitles.
The disc is sadly lacking in extra features. In fact, the only bonus is Inside IMAX: Hubble 3D (8:16), an interesting making-of with crew and astronaut interviews that is far too short. A full-length documentary about the Hubble Space Telescope or a piece on the IMAX camera's trip to space would have been appreciated.
As a species, we humans have often looked to the stars for evidence of something greater. IMAX: Hubble celebrates the landmark device making this exploration possible and the universal spirit of discovery. Partially filmed in space on an IMAX camera, IMAX: Hubble features some of the most breathtaking images ever caught on film. Warner Brothers' DVD lacks substantial extras but features excellent picture and sound. Highly Recommended.
William lives in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.