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On one hand, “Hubble IMAX 3D” (opening Friday at Celebration!Lansing) is the story of a rescue mission. In May 2009, a crew of astronauts boarded the Space Shuttle Atlantis to visit the Hubble Space Telescope, orbiting 320 miles above the planet.
Repairs needed to be made in order to keep the telescope in working order, including upgrading cameras and fixing mirrors. Replacing a defective circuit board during a spacewalk, however, is not a job for the faint of heart: The bolts holding the equipment in place are sharp, and one rip in the insulated gloves of an astronaut could be fatal.
“It’s like performing brain surgery with oven mitts,” “Hubble” narrator Leonardo DiCaprio explains.
But “Hubble” also makes optimal use of the gigantic IMAX screen to show off the magnificence of Saturn and the mind-boggling depths of space.
Remember that scene in “Blade Runner” when Harrison Ford realizes he can delve into a photograph to see concealed elements of a crime scene? That’s amazingly similar to what scientists can do with the pictures Hubble has sent back.
“Hubble captured images so complex we can actually travel through them,” DiCaprio notes, and travel through them we do. In a breathtakingly beautiful sequence, the camera effortlessly sails into the “rose-colored cloud” of the Orion Nebula to discover what looks like a Grand Canyon made of magenta cotton candy.
“Hubble” crams a considerable amount of information into less than an hour, including a quick history of the telescope, a look back at the crash of the Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003 and its aftermath and a demonstration of how the Atlantis astronauts prepared for their work by training with a full-size model of Hubble in an enormous, four-story-deep swimming pool.
The underwater experiences help them understand how to operate in a zero-gravity environment. It’s also rather funny to hear what’s playing on the stereo as the weightless astronauts tumble and float around the shuttle: Jack Johnson’s “Upside Down.”
Viewers who don’t understand all the technical aspects of the Hubble refurbishing can still appreciate the majesty of the film’s astonishing starscapes, as the Hubble cameras capture the death throes of fading stars and the brilliant births of what may become new planets.
In the press notes, director Toni Myers reflects on how Hubble has “changed the way we see the universe.”
“Hubble has raised more questions than its designers ever anticipated,” Myers comments. “Where did we come from? How did we get here? Is there anybody else out there? In all those billions of galaxies is there another world like ours?
“It’s this spirit of exploration and discovery that is Hubble’s true legacy.”
Myers’ “Hubble IMAX 3D” is a worthy tribute to that legacy.