BLAST!

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BLAST!
STUDY IN SCARLET Three scientists look after their satellite of love.

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.—Keith Uhlich

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