On the box top of the IMAX Hubble Blu-ray it boldly declares that [it] is going to “change your view of our universe” and for the most part it exceeds our wildest expectations. It’s not that we haven’t seen these images before, in one form or another, but what’s different this go around is the absolutely stunning details and immersive quality from the IMAX technology. Veteran documentary filmmaker Toni Myers capitalizes on our fascination with space exploration and Sci-Fi themes while returning to her passion for the stars with a look at our crowning achievement in technology, vision and space exploration. No doubt inspired by filmmakers like James Cameron, who are not only making the biggest landscape epics of all time (Avatar, Terminator franchise, Aliens) but are also producing provocative documentary films like Ghosts of the Abyss and Aliens of the Deep, Hubble showcases the power of cinematography-driven narratives that are changing the way we think about documentary films and our universe. Larger than life and twice as important in an age when aesthetics and grandeur make the difference between Discovery Channel impressive and celebrated big screen spectacle, IMAX Hubble captures the power of the human spirit to dream and to explore.
Taking advantage of the world-making look and feel of IMAX and the clarity of Blu-ray, Toni Myers follows a long career of feature-length and short subject documentary films with a production that is equal parts escapist joy, history lesson and docudrama. Chronicling the events surrounding the actual NASA space mission to repair the Hubble telescope in 2009, Leonardo DiCaprio narrates while Myer’s uses impressive computer visualizations and standard documentary coverage to get at the heart and soul of Hubble, NASA and the people responsible for it. Given that the space race has come in last, and the final shuttle has come and gone, it might be challenging convincing audiences to get excited about this film, either as a rental or purchase – but you’d be missing out. What makes the film so special is the sense of being part of it all, the history of it. If you feel yourself bothered by the films shortcomings, like the short run time or maybe DiCaprio’s earnest but lackluster narration, just look for the little kid inside you and remember what it’s like to set yourself free.
Growing up with NASA and space endeavors since I can’t remember when, I’ve held a long-lasting love for all things space related. Maybe it was Star Trek (the original series, of course) and Mr. Shatner going bold and owning Klingons and space lizards where no man had gone before, but this movie-mission felt genuine and extra special for all the right reasons. The fact that Leonardo DiCaprio narrates is what it is, he’s no Attenborough but then again he’s thankfully no Oprah Winfrey either. No hate involved, I love O just not as a nature series narrator. That being said, Imax Hubble Blu-ray is a must for all the reasons it should remain a constant reminder that space exploration is not only important but an incredible journey we have to maintain if for no other reason than the possibility of something extraordinary.
In order to fully appreciate this movie it’s important to check your expectations at the door, relax and think of this movie as a little adventure for the junior astronomer inside you, for the universe enthusiast and Star Trek junkie you don’t admit to but can’t deny. This doesn’t mean you have to own a telescope or harbor a deep down appreciation for Tribbles, teleporters and tight tunics on your Sci-Fi action heroes, but it’s helpful if you take an active participation in the experience. Whether you’re sometimes drawn to the Discovery Channel and you missed IMAX: Hubble in theaters, or you want to believe again in the power of the universe, there’s a lot to enjoy at home with this Blu-ray. IMAX Hubble is a remarkable film as much for its historical significance as the incredible footage, well received by audiences and critics upon its release in 2010 and the subsequent Blu-ray release shows high marks as well. If you only know what you’ve heard on the news or in casual conversation about Hubble and the 2009 mission, or NASA in general, this movie provides a great learning portal but not an end destination. Due to limitations of filming during the mission, including the bulky IMAX camera that is as daunting and difficult as you might expect, not to mention the nuances of filming in space, there definitely isn’t enough IMAX footage but it’s a nice overview and the astounding images more than speak for themselves.
The coolness of IMAX is still hindered by cost and difficulties with the technology but there are quite a few feature films that have incorporated IMAX-filmed sequences to enhance or expand traditional and/or digital film. Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight featured 30 minutes of IMAX footage and his third and final Batman film in the series, The Dark Knight Rises will again contain IMAX footage. In 2009, inspired by Nolan’s work, Michael Bay (my article on Mr. Bay, Movie-Mechanic) ended up with almost ten minutes of IMAX-filmed footage in his film Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Two years later, Brad Bird’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol contained 30 minutes of footage.
To Blu-ray or not to Blu-ray:
IMAX: Hubble was originally released to theaters in 3D but rather than coming across like a downgrade, Warner Brothers manages to preserve the grandness with a beautiful anamorphic widescreen transfer. If you need a primer or want more info on anamorphic widescreen and your home theater experience you might find Digitalbits helpful. There are also plenty of places that will drill down into the inky black particulars, assess whether or not you’ll find aliasing or compression artifacts if that stuff is important to you. Rest assured anything that starts with IMAX is going to blow you away.
I would like to see IMAX: Hubble in all libraries and made available to schools everywhere. In an era when more is more and less is disappointing, the only thing you need to know about this movie is that it captures the imagination with the spirit of possibility, showing where we’ve been and what we can accomplish when we dream for the stars.
Warner Home Video, a division of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Inc., invited me to join their exclusive Blu-ray Elite Movie Review Program and they sent me a complimentary copy of this movie for the purpose of review with special attention on the “Blu-ray Experience”. I received this video for free, but that does not sway this review or the reviews of other films that will follow.