That exclamation point in the title is no joke. BLAST! aims to make astrophysics, per its promotional tag line, into a rollicking, “Indiana Jones style” adventure. The inspiration for this globehopping video documentary, which would be more at home on TLC or PBS than in a downtown specialty theater, is director Paul Devlin’s brother Mark, one of a team of scientists building a balloon-borne, large aperture, submillimeter telescope…BLAST, you see. This vaguely Tinkertoy-esque structure is to be lifted into the upper atmosphere by a high-altitude dirigible, where it can take pictures of space. By homing in on submillimeter light, it might give a conception of how the universe evolved.
From the wilds of Arctic Sweden to the wintry desolation of McMurdo Station, Antarctica, Devlin follows Mark and his crew through two launch-and-recovery operations, each with its own set of trials and tribulations. Yet even at the lowest ebb, it’s all treated as a lark, to the point that one wishes an Encounters at the End of the World–filming Werner Herzog would show up and subject the group to a few harsh, ecstatic truths. Still, it’s hard to suppress a smile when the Bill Gates–ish Barth Netterfield turns to the camera and says that you have to be a “balloonatic” to work in this profession.