Remember those jokes about the Hubble telescope needing a blind man's cane and dark glasses when it went into orbit 20 years ago and immediately proved nearsighted?
After eye surgery by NASA astronauts to fix a warped mirror, the Hubble has become an instrument of penetrating vision that has allowed astronomers to peer into the farthest reaches of space and catch fantastic glimpses into the universe's distant past.
Glorious pictures created from the data collected by Hubble, along with closer-to-home footage of NASA's final nursemaid mission to the telescope last year, are presented in "Hubble 3D," narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio and offering an elegant portrait of the best spy cam humanity has ever invented.
Projected in an almost tactile three dimensions on giant IMAX screens, "Hubble" is about as close as most of us ever will get to a trip into space. The images practically put the audience on board the space shuttle Atlantis alongside the crew that went up in May 2009 to pull the telescope into the ship's bay so astronauts could give it a tuneup.
Director Toni Myers, who has worked on such IMAX productions as "Under the Sea 3D" and "Deep Sea 3D," splits the film between the repair mission and digital simulations of the cosmos built from Hubble's raw data. While the NASA footage is remarkably immediate — as the astronauts suit up, the 3D images virtually set them in viewers' laps — it's the film's star trek that truly dazzles.
"Hubble" zooms past the star Sirius, a mere 50 trillion miles from Earth, to gaseous clouds in the Orion Nebula where stars are being born. The film zips outside the Milky Way to Andromeda, our closest galactic neighbor. Then it's off to the Virgo Cluster, a heavy-traffic area containing 2,000 galaxies.
DiCaprio may bring a different sort of star power to "Hubble," but his boyish intonation sounds thin given the majesty of the pictures. What a difference a stellar voice — say, James Earl Jones, Patrick Stewart, Morgan Freeman — would have made.
And the words themselves, particularly as the film closes, grow a bit too precious as DiCaprio's narration turns into an eco-sermon about how we need to look after the little speck of creation all of us are riding on. It doesn't take a trip to the Virgo Cluster to tell us we should take better care of our home turf.
But the images of "Hubble" — both human and cosmic — more than compensate. No little flaws of language are enough to hold pictures this lovely to Earth.