Studio:New Video Year: 2008-2009 Cast: Erik Thompson Director: Douglas J. Cohen Release Date: September 29, 2009 Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable) Run Time: 09h:24m:00s Genre(s): television, science
"In the beginning there was darkness..." - narrator (Erik Thompson)
Heady facts and pretty pictures are the order of the day, as the History Channel propels us into the far reaches of speculative space.
Movie Grade: C+
DVD Grade: C+
I've been weaned on the electronic teat of the History Channel for a long time now, and I always have taken comfort in plopping down in front of the TV for some solid edutainment. I have learned things, had my mind expanded a little, and generally have happily wallowed in many of the channel's offerings. This 12-episode season three release of The Universe series—served up in 1080i on three Blu-Ray discs—finds the usually high caliber History Channel content stumbling a little from what could be a bad case of running-out-of-stuff-to-talk-about-itis.
The good news is that just because it's season three doesn't mean you can't walk in without having seen the previous seasons. One could cherry pick the eps in any sequence and be none the wiser had you actually viewed them in order. There's no connective series mythology to be concerned with, because these stand-alone docs cover an assortment of topics (Living in Space, Deadly Comets), all adorned with the channel's typical scholarly hue. It's just that the downside is that the material here is far more speculative than the first two seasons, so the wiggle room is there for some of the more fuzzy themes (Stopping Armageddon, Alien Faces).
Production values are pretty solid, utilizing a mixture of archival footage, expert interviews and all sorts of neat CG animation. The visual slickness helps some of the more confounding speculation on tap here—such as the headswimming what-ifs in Parallel Universes, for example—glide by easily, so that even if the concepts go rocketing past your noggin it's rarely dull to stare at. And then there's the curiosity of something like the Sex in Space ep, where the wonders of cosmic copulation are paraded about under the guise of science, when the majority of the material has to do with some sort of prototype "cuddling tube" and Velcro space suits that make the deed theoretically easier in zero gravity.
This set has a fairly steep MSRP, so I can't really come close to giving this a big thumbs up, despite the occasional above bar episodes (Cosmic Phenomena, Light Speed), so it's really a case of your mileage may vary. If you like the speculative stuff, this may be just what you need, though back-to-back it all becomes a little much. My advice would be hunt around for repeats, or seek it out from the library if you're hellbent on watching them all.
The episodes in this season three set are:
Deep Space Disasters
Original airdate: 11/11/08
Original airdate: 11/18/08
Original airdate: 11/25/08
Sex in Space
Original airdate: 12/02/08
Original airdate: 12/09/08
Deadly Comets and Meteors
Original airdate: 12/16/08
Living in Space
Original airdate: 12/23/08
Original airdate: 01/06/09
Original airdate: 01/13/09
Original airdate: 01/27/09
Edge of Space
Original airdate: 02/03/09
Original airdate: 02/03/09
The 1080i AVC-encode from New Video is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, and while overall a nice looking transfer it is far from the sort of "wow" this format really demands. Almost disappointing, actually. In fact, I probably would have been more lenient had this been the SD release, where modest issues like banding might have been more easily ignored, but when a product costs more and its enveloped under the BD banner, expectations naturally run higher. Sure, the CG animation largely looks good, but is that really enough? The modesty continues on the audio side, which is delivered in a decent-but-unremarkable uncompressed PCM 2.0 mix, available with optional English subs.
The backcover states there are four discs, when in reality there are only three. The only supplements are found on disc three, and those are only a set of text-based Universe Facts and a modest Image Gallery.