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At The Movies

Hubble 3D

Directed by Toni Meyers
The Hubble Space telescope may be the perfect subject for an IMAX film. It both provides and is part of some amazing images – and it could use the publicity. For all the great press it has gotten for NASA, the project always seems to be on the verge of cancellation.

Every good IMAX mindblower has to feature something that’s really good in 3D. With “Hubble,” it’s the ability to travel through some of the familiar but still amazing shots Hubble has taken of the universe. An early sequence has the camera diving at many times the speed of light out towards Orion’s belt to a star nursery, where five million mile-per-hour solar winds have carved out a grand canyon in a dust cloud so many trillions of miles across that entire solar systems would fill it like popcorn in a bowl.

But we don’t get too many of these sequences here. Most of our trip is spent with the astronauts who go out on the last flight to save the Hubble. It is a tense, dangerous mission. But aside from the bright blue Earth sliding by beneath, these sequences are like a slow-motion construction project. There are a couple of great liftoff scenes, which look great on the 60 foot high screen.

Like many IMAX films, this one looks away from the grandeur in order to connect to the people involved. The astronauts are all middle aged, extremely fit and rather geeky – something that might help inspire some kids who see this. We also see a lot of the astronauts’ lives inside the space shuttle – how they work and even use the bathroom in space (described only). There is a pretty neat little sequence showing how to make a burrito in weightlessness.

Still, I would have liked a few more shots of deep space and of Earth from the Shuttle. The mission here embodies the central debate going on in NASA today: manned vs. robotic spaceflight. Astronauts inspired the country in the early space program. But unmanned flights are better for science – and much, much cheaper, since robots don’t need to stay alive and don’t care if they come back.

But they still don’t have a robot that could fix Hubble, or any next generation of space telescopes that are coming in the next few years. Given that NASA always comes up as something people want to cut in hard budget times, “Hubble” is a great example of why we spend some of the government’s money on things besides problems here on earth.

Shrek Forever After

Directed by Mike Mitchell
I was not a fan of “Shrek” when the ogre came to ubiquity back in 2001. Pixar and Dreamworks, two companies that shared a bitter history, were competing in the early days of computer animation, like they are today. And each has kept their formula. Pixar films are extremely well-written, highbrow by the standards of animation, each creation an entirely original universe with a consistent internal logic.

Dreamworks, by contrast, comes out with lower common-denominator films whose humor is driven mainly by pop culture references that seem out of place when delivered by fish or fairies. “Shrek” seemed like the height of this style. Not to mention Mike Meyer’s Shrek was just a sanitized version of the Scottish character he’d done better on “Saturday Night Live” and in “So I Married and Axe Murderer.” Eddie Murphy’s Donkey was just a rehashing of his dragon sidekick in “Mulan,” an excellent Disney tale set at the Great Wall of China.

With “Shrek Forever After,” I learned to embrace the silliness. Maybe it’s the set-up. Shrek is married to Fiona, the princess turned ogre from the first film. They’ve got triplets and a seemingly-perfect life – until it repeats ad nauseum in a “Groundhog Day” mix of dirty diapers, chaos and lack of privacy. His desire to get out of his situation for just a day drives the plot forward. The whole idea of a kids’ movie whose theme is that kids are kind of annoying (if indispensably cute) is amusing – though it also might play on some of the anxieties that kids have in this divorce-heavy age.

“Shrek Forever After” is faced-paced, joke-dense and lots of shallow, undemanding fun. There is a particularly amusing sequence of Shrek and Fiona having what amounts to an affectionate fistfight. The whole idea of mish-mashing every fairy tale out there works, with new twists thrown on familiar characters. They rip off everything, from Brothers Grimm to “South Park.” And of course the whole thing ends in a dance sequence.

It looks a lot better, too. Dreamworks never seemed as advanced in their animation, and the way characters move still seems a little stiff compared to Pixar. But “Forever After” has lots of great landscape and flight sequences that really suck you into the screen. For a film that deals with a giant ogre having a midlife crisis, this flick is pretty weightless…not that there’s anything wrong with that.

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