The Universe: The Complete Season One (2007) Review
(More customer reviews)I am reviewing the Blu-ray version of The Universe Season One.
Let me first frame my review. I am a big astronomy buff. I have been interested and studied astronomy all my life. Although I dabled in aerospace engineering in college due to my love of space, I ultimately changed my major and have never really worked in the field. In fact I don't own a telescope. Most of my interest has been satisfied by books and wonderful TV shows like Cosmos and The Planets.
So, to me this series would have been perfect fit. A modern Cosmos with all the latest technology, computer graphics, and newest imagery. However, this series is dissapointing. I wanted this to be the outer space equivalent of the stunning Planet Earth series (or even walking with Dinosaurs), which it is not. It's not that it's horrible or even bad, just it left so much on the table.
So, I will outline what I find as flaws and then finish the review with the positives.
1) It's a little to cutesy. The narative style is a little too casual and relies on a lot of comparisons that are a little trite. For instance, they describe how Jupiter flings comets and asteriods out of their normal orbit (which protects the inner planets) by comparing it to a frisbee thower. So we have a lady on a field throwing a frisbee over and over. There are descriptions like, "I want to go ice fishing on Europa" from professional scientists, and using pool tables to make analogies of particles in the Sun colliding, but doing it over and over, or how the threats to the Earth are like an amusement park (except that they aren't at all!!!). Most of us get the point with the mere mention and don't need the extended display of terrestrial footage. It comes off as dumb and slightly insulting. Especially since most of the analogies are weak at best and very misleading at worse since they don't quite work. The narative comes off as trying to be hip and plays to a younger or naive crowd.
2) Animation quality is inconsistent. The computer animations can be quite good, but many are also quite bad. It's inconsistent. In fact some are high def and some are standard def or even blurry! That's unexceptable for computer animations. Even if rendered at lower rez they should be clear. My only guess is they couldn't get the originals. For instance on the rocket launch of the Mar rover missions the picture quality is very bad. However, I have Roving Mars on blu-ray and know it's quality is top notch. Why didn't they get the source? Some animations are really hokey too, like 10 years ago. Still some animations are quite good.
3) Constantly repeating a few graphics multiple times throughout the show. This one is really annoying and kills any desire to revist the show for another viewing. They constantly replay the same few computer animations throughout the episode too many times. This combined with the repeating of the people/earth shots, screams to me: We only had so much budget and we are stretching it as far as we can.
4) Lack of real images. It's amazing that we have soooo many good high rez images of many of the space topics they cover and they choose not to use them. Hubble has put out some great images as well as many other satellites. There are 1000's of photo's of Jupiter and the moons, Saturn, etc... and yet we get very few. When we do get some they are usually blurry low resolution and only shown for a few seconds (see mars episode). This would have been a great way to fill space and show the awe of the universe without repeating the same canned footage and computer animations over and over.
5) Lack of historical context or mission data. The show seems to find a couple things it focuses on in an episode and then avoids a lot of other stuff. for instance, when discussing Jupiter they show only one probe that visited, Voyager, but not a single mention of any other mission. There's no context into what we found out and when. No grander understanding to the journey of exploration and what it has uncovered over time. DOn't get me wrong, I don't want to see another show about how engineers built a satellite at NASA. But knowing that many other probes visited and what they found and how their data got better and answered questions from previous ones....
6) Misleading computer graphics. This one is probably my biggest beef with the show. In and attempt to dramaticize the show, much of the images are flat out misleading or wrong. For instance one animation has the moon (as in Earth's moon) revolving around Jupiter. Another has Europa in front of a star field that is zooming (like a ship going into hyperspace). Or when they show a Gamma burst from a star hitting Earth it looks like a huge glowing space ray. Or showing the asteroid field as heavily populated sea of rocks like a sci fi movie (I had to tell my wife, the asteriods are so far away from eachother that you wouldn't see another one if standing on one). These are plain turn offs if you ask me. It doesn't give the right imagery to those that don't know any better.
7) Formula of 4 or 5 concepts. It seems that each episode has at most 4 or five concepts it touches upon and no more. You can start to see and predict how the episodes will go and realize they aren't going to go in depth on a particular episode since they spend a lot of time on only the four or five areas. For instance, Jupiter they talk about How it Formed, the weather patterns, Europa, and Magnetosphere. There is so much more they could have gone over when discussing Jupiter and the moons.
I could go on. I had high hopes for the series but feel it's a pop culture cable television show with little BBC or PBS feel to it.
So is it good at all? Well, yes, it's still decent. This does fill a void in space documentaries. There are a few new nuggets of information that I am gleaning and some of the animations are still cool. If I were an average person without any knowledge of space, I might find it really neat. It might inspire some children to take up astronomy. Some episodes were more interesting than others (like the one on our Sun).
All in all, I give it a recomendation if you are curious. THere aren't that many astronomy documentaries and even Cosmos and The Planets are pretty dated. If you can get past the narrative and other flaws then you will probably find it was worth it.
I think if you have high def cable/satellite though, I would just watch it on TV as it airs. You probably won't find the need to buy it.
UPDATE: I hadn't viewed the bonus feature "The Big Bang" prior to my reivew. I have to say it was MUCH better quality than the regular episodes. It actually showed the history of astronomy including early scientists and theories of the universe but from a unique perspective. It showed only those people/theories connected to the eventual big bang theory. That was nicely done. It put a good wrapper around the whole big bang theory. Also the special was high def throughout the entire program (only rarely did this special drop in lower def material). So the consistency of the high def production was apparent. Even old phots were given the high def treatment and look excellent on screen even if they were only black and white. The show was a little light on CG. I could have enjoyed some more attention to dark matter and it's role in the universe's evolution. They also only showed one theory for the end of the universe, the Big RIP. They didn't cover the convergence or other theories. I guess the show is about the big bang and not the end. All in all, this bonus feature adds quality to the package. I would have given an extra half star to make my review 3 1/2 stars because of it.
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From the mysteries of our own solar system those that surround unexplored galaxies, history and science collide in this ambitious investigation of the Universe.Questions about the Universe have consumed man since the dawn of time. In the 50 years since humans made their first tentative explorations of space, we have increased our knowledge of the cosmos dramatically, using powerful telescopes, robotic probes, and manned missions. But only recently has computer technology allowed scientists to illustrate in stunning detail their awe-inspiring conclusions. THE UNIVERSE, a groundbreaking series from THE HISTORY CHANNEL, employs cutting-edge computer-generated imagery to bring distant planets and faraway stars up close, allowing viewers to gaze at black holes and comets, and witness the births and deaths of galaxies and solar systems.This epic miniseries takes viewers on an exhilarating voyage through the cosmos. From the farthest reaches of distant galaxies back to the familiar face of our moon, THE UNIVERSE brings the mysteries of the heavens down to earth.