Skip to main content
article icon

Marks out of 10 - Out of this world

Features | Published in TES Newspaper on 16 April, 2010 | By: Alan Thomson

Hubble 3D - Showing at the Science Museum, London, and Glasgow Science Centre

Hubble 3D is an intense experience. If at any point you feel unwell we recommend you close your eyes for a few moments. Alternatively, you can make your way to the exit at the back of the cinema ... ".

I looked at my nine-year-old son, he looked back and gulped. The health warning issued by the nice man at the start of the European premiere of Hubble 3D at the IMAX cinema in the Science Museum made us feel as if we were embarking on our own exciting, even dangerous, mission.

Sitting there in our 3D specs with lenses so big that they looked like space helmet visors, the child in me wanted a mission control-style countdown to the start of the film.

Instead, there was a filmed welcome from director Toni Myers, who couldn't make it to the premiere, and astronaut Michael J. Massimino, nicknamed "Mass".

It is worth noting, should you wish to wring every last drop of educational benefit out of this film, that Mass is no Top Gun flyboy turned space cowboy but has a PhD in mechanical engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. When reminded of this later, even my son conceded that school may be worthwhile if it gets you into space.

So here is the plot: it is the last mission to the Hubble space telescope to carry out some maintenance and upgrades before the space shuttle programme comes to an end. So, like packing your camcorder for your holidays, IMAX Corp, Warner Bros and NASA loaded a 700lb 3D camera into the boot of the Shuttle Atlantis ready to record the event for posterity.

Hubble 3D is a documentary of two halves. One half is about the mission itself. This is filmed in 3D, but the effects are quite subtle so that resolution and depth of field is greatly enhanced on the IMAX screen without too much sent spinning towards your eyeballs.

The shuttle blast-off will move you - literally. If the sound is properly cranked up, the combination of vast IMAX screen and sub-woofers conveys a sense of the raw chemical and physical forces at work in rockets this size.

Much of this section revolves around the maintenance job on the Hubble, launched 20 years ago on April 24. It might have become tedious if not for the 3D treatment that imbues every shot with such solidity and detail that it is a marvel to watch. Those of us who grew up with Star Trek and Dr Who will be relieved to see that space travel relies on engineering that doesn't bend or wobble. Right now, it's as close as you will get to being there.

The other half of the film is even cleverer because it involves the digital recreation of the universe by using real data gathered by Hubble on deep space structures such as nebulae and measurements of the distances involved.

The computer-generated results deliver an eye-popping 3D fly-through of our galaxy and beyond. You are stunned visually and then mentally as you remember that, barring digital jiggery-pokery to enhance colours and lighting, this stuff is - or was - really out there.

My major wow moment came at the end of the film when a staggering image of galactic networks emerged. The words "intelligent" and "design" may momentarily have popped into my head, although not necessarily together.

If I have one criticism, it is Leonardo DiCaprio's narration. His tone and delivery are fine, but the script he is working to is pretty cliched. Then again, Hubble 3D is attempting to popularise something that is - dare I say it - quite nerdy, so this is being picky.

It is a genuinely enlightening way to spend 50 minutes of your life.

The Verdict: 7/10.


Subscribe to the magazine

as yet unrated

Add your comment

Subscribe to the magazine
Join TES for free now

Join TES for free now

Four great reasons to join today...

1. Be part of the largest network of teachers in the world – over 2m members
2. Download over 600,000 free teaching resources
3. Get a personalized email of the most relevant resources for you delivered to your inbox.
4. Find out first about the latest jobs in education