At some point along the way The Universe became more or less a Letterman Top Ten List of the ways that we may die. If I were the type to worry I’d now add gamma ray bursts, meteors, asteroids, comets, and black holes to my own list of things that scare the crap out of me (for those of you wondering, that list also includes Fox News, terrorists, and clowns—all three of which aren’t as dissimilar as you might imagine).
I’m being a tad hyperbolic here, but not by much. Not when you consider some of the episodes on this season are called “Death Stars,” “Biggest Blasts,” and—my favorite—“10 Ways to Destroy the Earth.” One episode, “The Day the Moon Was Gone,” spent quite a bit of time examining how unlikely it would be for complex life to evolve on our blue world without the Moon’s stabilizing influence on the tides and the weather. After watching these episodes, I can’t help coming away amazed that not only have we survived for as long as we have, but that we are here at all.
I suppose that should be depressing, but I find it exhilarating. Maybe it’s just because I tend to be an optimist at heart, but the fragility and just plain improbability of our existence makes me appreciate our being here all the more. It’s truly awe-inspiring.
Probably that’s why I can forgive The Universe from straying from its roots of just reporting known facts about the planets, solar system, and galaxies, to the more speculative vein it’s taken in the past two seasons. The science is just as good as it ever was, but the show plays with it more than it did in the past, engaging in “what-if” scenarios on what would happen if the Earth never had a moon, or what would a space battle really look like. This changes the whole dynamic of the show, but I find that I don’t mind because I still come away from each episode with the same sense of awe and wonder as I did the first season.
Each episode is presented in fullscreen with the audio in PCM 2.0 (uncompressed) format. English subtitles are provided for the hearing impaired. Overall the show looks and sounds wonderful, and the Blu-ray format really brings enhances the already stunning visual effects for which the show is known. Like the previous seasons, this is a very well put-together Blu-ray set.
Meteors: Fire in the Sky (9:33) – Both this and the other extra are rather short, but they are informative. This one focuses on some of the most important meteors we have either experienced or witnessed in the past twenty or so years, such as the Martian meteorite ALH 84001; the meteror in which scientists discovered fossilized remains of Martian bacteria. It was an interesting extra, but I’m not sure how informative it will be for most of those interested in this program because they probably already know about ALH 84001.
Comets: Prophets of Doom (3:17) – I found the title to this one a bit misleading because I thought that this extra would focus on the religious and apocalyptic belief-systems that have been made about comets. Instead this is your basic crash course in Comets 101. Interesting, but not what I was expecting.
It’s interesting to see how this show has evolved over four seasons. In many ways The Universe is not the same program it was when it started, and I know that this is problematic for many people. I find that I don’t really have a problem with the changes, though. This is still a fun, highly educational show, and Season Four is no different. Highly recommended.
A&E Television Networks presents The Universe: The Complete Season Four . Running time: 9 hours 24 minutes. Rating: NR. Released on DVD: February 23, 2010. Available at Amazon.com