Whilst visiting London on Thursday I popped into the Science Museum to see the new IMAX film Hubble 3D. After buying my ticket I wandered amongst throngs of people looking at everything from the Apollo 10 Command Module to Stephenson’s Rocket. It was good to see the place heaving with people, hopefully learning about science and clearly having fun. I thought their presence even more remarkable considering it was a glorious sunny day outside! Great, I thought, these people clearly want to be here.
Yet I did wonder to myself whether any of them were a) interested in astronomy and b) sufficiently interested to buy a ticket to see a movie that is essentially about a telescope. Is Hubble really so well-known that it might draw crowds to the box office? Or has its magic only rubbed off on those of us who live and breathe astronomy, I thought? The answer came a little over half an hour before the film was supposed to start.
I had just passed the Apollo 10 command module when I looked to where the IMAX cinema entrance was. Snaking away from it was a rapidly growing line of perhaps fifty people or more. It was the queue for the Hubble IMAX show. Not wanting to miss the chance of a good seat I jumped in line. And still more and more people joined the queue until it had stretched right around the corner out of sight. Before long we were let in and the film started.
So what was it like? Well, frankly, it was stunning – visually, aurally, emotionally. Epic is the word that actually came to my mind as the lights came up.
When writing about science I’ve learnt it’s great if you can capture some essence of the character of a scientist or their own personal story and weave it in and around the hard facts and discoveries you’re trying to discuss. Sometimes that can be difficult, sometimes it comes easily. What struck me about this film is how naturally Hubble’s ‘personality’ leaps out of the screen. It’s every bit as arresting as the 3D effects, even to a hardened space nut like me.
There are some beautiful pieces of CGI which I’ll let you discover for yourselves. Though I shall say that there’s one zoom onto the Orion Nebula that, for me, was worth the ticket price alone. There are also some wonderful scenes which superbly convey why Hubble’s multi-wavelength observing capability makes it such a powerful instrument.
I tried to write down a few notes as I was watching. But in the darkness they just became random scrawled words. One simply says “Launch!!!!”. I’ll admit I had a tear in my eye at that point. It’s an incredible moment of cinematography coupled with a chest rattling crackle like nothing I’ve ever heard.
Do go and see the film if you get a chance. It’s running at the Science Museum until 28 May from what I can tell. I really don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
Hubble image credit: NASA/ESA