Although IMAX is one of several credited participants in the production of this feature-length DVD, there's no indication whether Hubble: 15 Years of Discovery was actually made for IMAX theatres, or aimed at the educational market via home video.
Most of the short IMAX space films rely on image and sound to convey their broad messages of conservation and man's undying urge to explore pretty much everything, so the narration that accompanies these films can be a bit facile; they're aimed at the broadest possible audiences, and admittedly the last thing viewers want is to be distracted by mouthfuls of high school space factoids.
What's really surprising about Lars Lindberg Christensen's documentary is how it informs us while maintaining a solid wow factor: the first two chapters deal with the Hubble telescope's birth, initial near-sightedness, and its subsequent success in rendering jaw-dropping images of extraordinary beauty; everything else covers specific phenomena as exposed by Hubble's far-reaching optics, including quasars, black holes, specific galaxies, and fine details when the telescope was left wide open to collect deep space images over a ten-day period.
Divided into nine themed chapters, Christensen buffers each segment with intros by ESA scientist Bob Fosbury, and while he's clearly ill at ease in front of the camera – reading his lines with a strong stiffness and awkward concluding pauses – the information is solid and engaging, and he sets up the remarkable montages where Christensen applies a bit of Adobe wizardry to create 3-D images from the Hubble stills (a process somewhat described in the interactive gallery, “How are Hubble Images Made”).
Even more striking are the animated sequences meant to illustrate solar winds, the collision of galaxies, and the strange optics of black holes. Some of the film's best animation was done by Toronto Astrophysicist John Dubinsky, and a few of these premium bits of eye candy, extracted from Dubinsky's DVD Gravitas, are archived in a separate gallery called “Simulating the Universe.” These 2-4 min. chunks have brief intro text, and the elegant animation is underscored with music by Toronto musician John Kameel Farah, whose music makes each vignette an hypnotic experience. (Pot imbibers will particularly love these trippy vignettes, especially if they're splashed on a wall using a projection setup.)
The ongoing narration by Fosbury and Howard Cooper is never short of potent explanations, making Hubble a good resource for space fans and educators. It's also a film worth revisiting, since Hubble will eventually reach the end of its lifespan in spite of a recent five year extension, and Christensen's doc is a fitting tribute to what's probably the most successful space device ever crafted, with images that will keep space eggheads busy for decades.
SPV's DVD is a Region 0 PAL to NTSC conversion, and aside from a few weak shots – Fosbury by a riverbed was clearly shot on DV instead of high-def – the video looks very pretty, and animation is very clean. The Dolby 2.0 audio is quite punchy, although the addition of a true 5.1 mix would've boosted the home theatre experience. The synth score by movetwo (Axel Kornmesser and Markus Loffler) is adequate, and while their score is preserved on a bonus soundtrack CD, several cues tend to repeat the same ambient, mildly thematic material, a problem due to the doc's steady narration that rarely lets the music exclusively support the images.
The DVD is loaded with a lot of trailers – a lot promo spots, including a segment for photographer Taho, the DVD's authoring house, various pedagogical organizations, and some of the film's sponsors in the gallery called “National Videos” – but he real bonus material lies in the aforementioned animation galleries.
A nicely designed set that certainly deserves an HD release. This film and the bonus audio CD are also available with a coffee table book featuring images from the Hubble space telescope.
In 2010, Toni Myers produced a documentary chronicling the final equipment upgrade for Hubble in vivid IMAX, titled Hubble 3D.
© 2007 Mark R. Hasan