Growing up, I absolutely hated science. It seems like it was little more than the education system’s way of encouraging students to remember and recite a never-ending complex series of formulas, equations, and facts that had very little application to everyday life. But astronomy, on the other hand, was something which always fascinated me, much in the way it does every little boy. Hearing about the planets and their possible environments fascinated me. Studying the constellations – the history of where they came from, what stars made them up, etc. – was a source of constant inspiration. I knew life was “out there” … only it took wildly different shapes or, at least, was broken down into all of the components the science teacher made me memorize.
Given how little was actually established those forty odd years ago when I was a pup, I can’t even begin to imagine how a program like the History Channel’s THE UNIVERSE continues to inspire those young astronauts and astronomers of today. Mostly, it’s vivid, colorful, and impressive. Computer graphics have never looked better – well, except maybe in some major motion picture releases – and the show makes exceptional use of the visual technology by mapping out these otherworldly places and events with cutting edge detail. Perhaps the best use appears in “Catastrophes That Changed the Planets,” the episode that opens season 6 when the viewer is given a front-row-view of how ranking cataclysms changed life here and the natural environment of Mercury and Mars.
Granted THE UNIVERSE stumbles at marshalling strongly captivating accounts with some of these outings – “Ride the Comet” vacillates understandably between fact and obvious conjecture quite a bit, as does the rampant speculation with fringe science in “UFOs: The Real Deal” and “Alien Sounds” (not about what you might think it’s about) – but I felt the narrative remained strong despite a preponderance for best educated guesses. I’ll admit that I’m far more tolerant of having noted experts dishing out their various theories and hypotheses than perhaps the next person – I’m a closet conspiracy nut, too … so THERE, Internet! – but I think that’s largely because, as I’ve already confessed, science was never my strong suit. Also, much of the territory covered in the second episode, “Nemesis: the Sun’s Evil” twin, is almost entirely based on scientific guesswork, some of which is fairly regularly debunked by more ‘hard science’ specialists. Still, as best as I understand it, good speculation – like how the planetary catastrophes on Saturn and Jupiter ‘may’ve’ looked or how survival may be accomplished on the Moon or Mars – is at the heart of good research anyway; and it’s certainly near and dear to quality storytelling. Making education entertaining ain’t easy, but the producers and contributors of THE UNIVERSE have no reason to hang their heads in shame.
In fact, one could make a case that THE UNIVERSE continues to work hard at surrounding fact with ‘fiction that may turn out to be fact over time.’ Every guess about our place in the cosmos is accompanied by three facts, and that isn’t a bad ratio. Plus, as I hope I’ve made clear, it all looks outstanding.
Besides, check out some competing theories regarding the Big Bang, and you’ll see that some science still waits for a wider audience.
THE UNIVERSE: THE COMPLETE SEASON SIX delivers just over ten hours of entertainment on three Blu-ray discs. The program is produced by Flight 33 Productions for History Television Network Productions. The DVD distribution is being handled by New Video. As far as the ‘technicals’ are concerned, it all looks and sounds wonderful; I had absolutely no audio problems that I’ve encountered with some other documentary-style features. There are English and Spanish subtitles available, and I’m comfortable admitting I made use of the English ones on a few occasions when I didn’t quite grasp what one of the experts was saying. (Again, I’m a Geek, just not a book-smart one!)
HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION POSSIBLE. Especially for junior high schools and high schools, I would think programs like THE UNIVERSE would make a stellar addition (pun intended) to their audio-visual libraries. Science nerds – like myself – have plenty to celebrate in the continuing exploration of our greater galaxy-at-large in this production. With state-of-the-art graphics along with guest scientists and engineers continuing their contribution to the program, I’ve no doubt that there’s still plenty of territory to discover. After all, the Universe is expanding, I’m told.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at New Video and A&E Television Networks, LLC provided me with a DVD screener copy of THE UNIVERSE: THE COMPLETE SEASON SIX by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.
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