What are White Holes? What is Astrobiology? What are the biggest things in space? These are just some of the fascinating topics covered in all 18 episodes of season two of The History Channels gorgeous show, The Universe.
While the first season mainly focused on our little neighborhood with the majority of episodes devoted to each of the eight planets, season two casts a wider net, going into the very mysteries of the, well, the universe. One of my favorite episodesâ€”Astrobiologyâ€”is all about various scientists more or less blue-skying what kind of alien life forms may exist out there in the deep black. The plants and creatures they come up with are absolutely amazing and completely scientifically plausible given what we currently understand about biology and ecology. The funny thing about this episode, as a friend pointed out to me, is that its almost purely science fictionâ€”albeit of the hard variety. This creates an interesting paradox in that we have here a show based on what we know about physics, astronomy, biology, etc., but smack in the middle is an episode which is all conjecture, basically scientists playing a huge game of “what if?”. And as much as I enjoy watching them go through the process and hearing about how they came about dreaming up these creatures, its not giving any real information. The writer in me loves that, but the amateur scientist in me wants more.
Really, this show is a backyard astronomers dream and what really makes it great is the host of physicists, astrophysicists, and astronomers who not only know what they are talking about, but also know how to talk about what they know. This may seem like a simple praise, but anyone who suffered through a science class with a teacher who has no communication skills knows how critical this is. These experts make The Universe appeal to both those who know a little something about the subject, like myself, and those who are interested, but dont have that background knowledge. And if that wasnt enough, the show looks fantastic to boot.
However, I had a hard time deciding if it was worth the price. You see recently I inherited both a Hi-definition plasma flat-screen television and a high-quality Blu-ray player, and for a while now I havent been able to decide whether the difference Ive seen in the few Blu-ray movies Ive watched had more to do with the television or the player. Luckily, I happen to own this season on regular DVD, so I decided to conduct an informal experiment. I watched the same five minutes of the episode “Alien Planets” on the regular DVD and the Blu-ray, and I have to say that there is a real, discernible difference between DVDs and Blu-rays. Its a subtle effect, but I noticed that the images were sharper, more distinct, and almost had a 3-D look to them. I was even able to make out textures which werent visible on the DVD. It was incredible and makes me confident in saying that this really is justified on being released on Blu-ray.
Each episode is presented in 1.33:1 aspect ratio with the audio in PCM 2.0 (uncompressed), and they look and sound great. The colors are vibrant and distinct, and there is good directionality to the audio with no dropouts.
Backyard Astronomers (53:35)–the only complaint I have about this Blu-ray set is the same one I had for the regular DVD. Backyard Astronomers is a series of twenty small features strung together under one title. The sections are geared toward teaching the amateur astronomer about space by first giving basic information on the planets, the Milky Way, and the Constellations, then goes into a month-by-month breakdown of what stars can be seen in the night sky. While the information here is good, the featurettes really should have been broken down into individual segments for easier access. I can imagine that it would be frustrating to slog through all that extra information if all I wanted was to see what kind of stars I could see in November. Its not a huge deal, but definitely an annoyance.
Its hard not to say this without sounding hoaky and disingenuous, but this show really makes me appreciate the wonder and beauty of our universe. Its not just the gorgeous visuals, but the realization of the incredible complexities of existence and the beauty of the mysteries we still havent solved. If youre into physics, astronomy, or just have a love of learning in general, then this is for you. Highly recommended.
The History Channel Presents presents The Universe: The Complete Season Two. Running time: 846 minutes. Rated NR. Released on DVD: July 7, 2009. Available at Amazon.
Tags: The Universe