Kultur // 1988 // 51 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Eric Profancik (Retired) // March 23rd, 2007
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
- T.S. Elliot, "The Hollow Men"
Three of our generation's greatest scientific minds come together to have a little chat. What would it be like to listen to Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan, and Arthur C. Clarke talk about their specialties in the realm of science? Before this DVD, I never knew that these titans of the universe got together in one spot; it caused the neurons in my brain to fire in delight. I missed my calling in life by not studying astrophysics, and my passion for Star Trek is a sad, lazy man's substitute. Seeing and knowing the contributions from these men make me crave a temporal do-over, and my passion is reignited yet again.
Sometime back around 1988, somewhere in England, for some unnamed show, these men came together for a quick discussion. Hosted by Magnus Magnusson, a man with a most unfortunate name, Hawking and Clarke are joined via videoconference by Sagan (at Cornell University in New York). They discuss such things as grand unified theory, big bang/big crunch, imaginary time, Mandelbrot sets, black holes, extraterrestrial intelligence, Mars, God, and other stray universal thoughts. For anyone with any inkling for science, much of what is discussed is general fodder. You've already heard this stuff many times; only once was there mention of a non-mainstream topic. As such, this discussion is a disappointment. Instead of being wowed by their brilliance and insight, I came away disappointed for the lack of revelatory material. The expectation for scintillating scientific discourse came up short due to the age of the material. That's the drawback to this piece. When the men talk about Hubble going up next year; or seeing the antiquated computer that Clarke is geekly giddy over (to demonstrate Mandelbrot sets -- or as you may know them, fractals), or knowing Sagan is dead...time and technology has left this discussion two decades in the past. Of course that's a big overstatement as we still don't have a grand unified theory -- but we do have Hubble, and a rover on Mars.
This DVD is bare bones and there's not much to say about the transfers. The full frame video has a distinct VHS look about it with weak colors, muted details, quite a bit of haze -- making everything soft, some pixelization, and a sprinkling of the white dirt specks. Audio I deduce is a mono track, and it has quite a nasty and constant background hiss that when they occasionally mute the microphone while Hawking types, the newfound complete silence is startling. Nonetheless, all of the dialogue can be understood without any problems.
One last item of note regarding the first word in the title, "God." I'm not sure why it's listed first as the topic is barely discussed -- perhaps more as a titillating draw -- but this portion of the conversation has ruffled a few feathers. As one might expect, these three men do not have strong religious beliefs. In fact, they are casually dismissive of a higher being, though Sagan couches his words in an effort to play it safe. This shouldn't come as a surprise as these men are scientists. What they cannot see, measure, or hypothesize without any scientific fact is not worth discussing. This dismissal of God and putting one's faith in science shouldn't be seen as insulting, but as an appreciation of Hawking's, Sagan's, and Clarke's faith in what they believe. You believe in God, they believe in science.
Obviously I was looking for a bit more for such a historic encounter from three brilliant men. Perhaps all the deep and complex material was excised and this was intended as a general physics sampler platter. Sadly, God, the Universe, and Everything Else is what it is, and it's only Physics 102. I can't recommend this one for purchase or rental. You're better off scanning your PBS station for repeats of Sagan's eminent series Cosmos. At least there you get the classic "billions and billions."
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 51 Minutes
Release Year: 1988
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Site