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Paul Devlin
Claire Missanelli- Producer
Louise Rosen-Co Producer
Richard Martinez- Composer

Ricardo Barberini

July 8, 2009


Documentaries are not always easily palatable by adults with short attention spans.  They often portray quaint interests of the filmmaker or the sponsor.  For example, a documentary about the sharks of the coral reefs of Australia is not really for everyone who is not into sharks.  Some are gross such as wolves in the Arctic capturing and eating live mice.  These maybe very fascinating  for a zoologist but boring to people like me.    Nor do I really enjoy watching the mating habits of wasps in the Kalahari Desert.

In that context, Blast! is a standout movie.  It is not boring and the director Paul Devlin has injected enough human drama, family and religious elements into it to make it excitingly realistic. 

Mark Devlin, Paul Devlin’s brother, is an Astrophysicist at the University of Pennsylvania who is heading a project to launch a giant telescope into space using a low-tech method; via a balloon.  His mission is to explore the outer reaches of the Universe and search for stars that are being born from the cosmic dust.  To launch a balloon to carry that massive telescope is a major undertaking.  However, he has financial help from NASA and physical and intellectual help from his students and colleagues.

The subject itself is extremely interesting. Since light travels at 186,000 miles per second, we can pick up the light sources of distant stars and galaxies as they were being created out of dust millions of years ago.  This is because they are so far away that the light is getting to us now.  As to why not use a land based telescope, well cosmic dust is mostly heat and the rays are absorbed by our atmosphere so terrestrial telescopes cannot see those lights radiating from those locations.   It is like trying to find your way in a forest in a middle of a moonless night.  Not possible, one might say, but doable with a pair of Infrared binoculars. Therefore, the whole object is to send the telescope far enough above the Earth’s atmosphere to be able to see those galaxies at the time of their formation.

The movie starts with the final successful lunch from Antarctica and then flashes back into 18 months previously when the team headed by Mark Devlin and his associate Barth Netterfeld go to Sweden to launch the telescope.  

The director Paul Devlin follows the team literally around the world from one pole to another and we share in their trials, hopes, failures, and successes.  We are also treated to a rare intimate glimpse of the life of a scientist and his family.  There is a rare touching moment when Mark’s son having been disappointed with his father’s absence on Thanksgiving day hangs up on him. We observe Mark’s ever suffering wife who is left alone to cope with keeping a house,  raising two young boys and paying the bills and taxes and in fact being a single mother while her husband is gallivanting around the world in search of new discoveries.  Paul is not pulling any punches and that is what makes this movie a cut above other so-called documentaries.

Then there is the ever optimist Barth who never stops smiling and does not perceive a conflict between being a good Christian and a scientist. 

Paul Devlin has other movie credits to his name. This time he has made a world-class documentary.  Unlike many documentaries, the story is told through the people.  There is no voice over narration, the action and the characters tell the story. 

The technical details, for most part, were handled and explained at the lay level and we will have to thank Emily Kagan for doing the science writing.   However, I wish there was more information available within the movie.  For example, why such a long chord between the balloon and the telescope and what frustrated me most was how was the balloon kept aloft for several weeks in the ice-cold air? 

Blast! is an excellent movie that I would gladly recommend for the entire family.  It should even be required viewing at every high school.  Look for a screening near your town or you could purchase it directly from

I give this movie starstarstarstar is proud to present this movie and the director Paul Devlin with their coveted  “A Gem in its Class” award for a documentary.

a gem in its class!

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