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Starring the Stars 

The ultimate ride-along takes viewers into orbit and beyond

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Space, the final frontier. This is the voyage of STS-125. Its 13-day mission: to repair, adjust, and upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope, to boldly go where three NASA teams had gone before.

The words work just as well here as in any Star Trekian adventure. We’ve got a group of people rocketing up into the skies, an operation for them to perform, cases of things going very wrong, a happy ending. Seriously, who needs Captains Kirk and Picard?

Hubble 3D is the latest in a batch of 3D IMAX movies that have brought gawking viewers up with the astronauts, to see how they live their lives in cramped, weightless situations, and to look back down at our big ball of blue and green. This particular mission took place last May, when seven astronauts blasted off for the Hubble, which has been orbiting 320 miles above the Earth for almost 20 years, beaming back crystalline images of other planets and galaxies. This would be the fourth and final time a servicing crew would visit Hubble before its eventual decommissioning, perhaps decades from now.

Armed with a gigantic IMAX camera and one mile-long roll of film (which lasts only eight minutes), the NASA team captured some fantastic close-up 3D shots both inside and outside their vehicle. Paired with plenty of other footage from small hi-def cameras and even some helmet-cams, director Toni Myers (Space Station 3D) put together a riveting slice of space life, covering everything from the bone-rattling liftoff to a lesson in how to make tacos with all ingredients floating by your head to — and this is important! — how to use a space potty.

The film is narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio, which will likely lure a few people who might not otherwise give a hoot about our space program. And he’s very much up to the task, keeping the talk straightforward but never hiding the fact that he’s fascinated by the stuff he’s discussing.

Truth be told, and taking nothing away from Leo, the film would probably work just as well without him, with just the astronauts communicating with each other, be it during playful moments or when they come up with big-time equipment-related difficulties that could endanger everyone.

Myers also takes peeks at the long training programs before the flight — where a huge water enclosure substituted for space — then explains just how delicate the Hubble is, familiarizes us with NASA’s endless list of acronyms (an EVA, or extra-vehicular activity, is a spacewalk), and even tosses in — here it comes, pop culture fans — a Three Stooges reference.

But there’s also a whole other level to Hubble 3D, one that will make anyone watching temporarily forget that they’re flying with astronauts. Myers uses the last portion of the 45-minute film to marry some of the telescope’s most amazing and distant images with computer-generated motion technology to take us on a ride out into the cosmos, flying through the disc of the Milky Way, peering into Omega Centauri, witnessing the birth of planets and stars. You’ve just gotta wonder: What else is out there?

Stanley Kubrick once wowed people by sending them out into the stars in 2001: A Space Odyssey. This fantastic visual treat soars way above and beyond that one. Another really nice touch: The film is bookended by ukulele-strumming Brother Iz singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World”. Those sounds are as magical as the film’s sights. Together, they could bring a tear to your eye.

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