Case Number 17390: Small Claims Court


History Channel // 2009 // 564 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Kent Dixon (Retired) // October 1st, 2009

The Charge

From the planets to the stars and out to the edge of the unknown, history and science collide in History's popular series The Universe.

The Case

Premiering in May 2007, The Universe filled an interesting niche, making space science exciting and engaging, exploring concepts beyond standard fare like manned space flight and the International Space Station. One could argue that the content is more CG-generated sensory overload for the iPod generation than a solid learning experience, but I'd beg to differ. What better way to re-engage today's children in the excitement and wonder of our universe than to jazz it up a bit?

Since the series began, The Universe has been one third really smart talking heads, one third engaging narration and one third dazzling CG imagery. While the series includes theories and perspectives grounded in science, the show also stretches the viewer's imagination to consider the wonders of the infinite reality of which we're a significant but very tiny part. Since exploring our own galaxy in detail in season one, all bets have been off and The Universe has delivered episode after episode of engaging and entertaining looks at everything from black holes and supernovas to solar radiation and catastrophic asteroid impacts.

All 12 episodes of The Universe: The Complete Season Three are included on three discs as follows:

Disc One
* "Deep Space Disasters:"They say the first 50 miles and the last 50 of any space flight are the most dangerous, find out why.
* "Parallel Universes:" Physicists believe there may be an exact replica of Earth in another dimension.
* "Light Speed:" It's fast, really, really fast!
* "Sex in Space:" 'nuff said!

Disc Two
* "Alien Faces:" Combining fact and imagination, see what life on other planets could look like.
* "Deadly Comets and Meteors:" Earth bears the scars of previous encounters, but asteroids could also be the source of valuable resources.
* "Living in Space:" What kind of homes would we need to live in space or on other planets?
* "Stopping Armageddon:" An asteroid took out the dinosaurs and we may be on the clock for another catastrophic impact.

Disc Three
* "Another Earth:" How rare is our planet and could a similar planet be right next door?
* "Strangest Things:" From planets and stars, to bizarre cosmic particles, there's some strange stuff out there!
* "Edge of Space:" Once you leave Earth's atmosphere, the adventures are literally infinite, but so are the risks.
* "Cosmic Phenomena:" The effects of our sun and other stars can be both helpful and harmful to life on Earth.

Truth be told, if it wasn't for all the annoying equations and math stuff, I likely would have pursued a university education and career in the sciences. I have vivid memories of visiting a local planetarium as a child, tipped back in my comfy chair, staring up in wonder at the projected starry sky as music and narration completed the experience. Watching the skies has a certain romantic appeal and there aren't many of us who haven't asked the age-old question "are we alone?" This is where The Universe really succeeds, making deep scientific topics and issues more accessible for the average viewer. There are very likely people out there in the scientific community who thumb their slide rules at this type of presentation, but it does a great service in adapting astronomy and the related science to a mass market audience.

Perhaps one of the most engaging things about The Universe as a series is the recurring scientists who provide on-screen background, scientific explanations and descriptions about each episode's specific topic. Despite being clearly experts in their respective fields, it's fun to see these academics gushing from time to time, still exhilarated by the mystery inherent in their chosen fields. Despite all the scientific knowledge, it becomes evident that many of the mysteries of The Universe still evade even the keenest scientific minds. To me, that makes this series all the more exciting and engaging.

The Universe is a sensory delight from beginning to end. The color is vibrant and punchy, blacks (of which there are many in a space presentation like this!) are deep and inky and contrast is sharp, as you'd expect from a recent hi-def presentation. The Universe is the type of content that suits hi-def best, majestic in both vision and scope. Watching this series in the dark in my front-projection home theater, it was easy to become lost in the content, especially during CG moments when the camera took me along on its intergalactic journeys. There are some visible halos, especially in brighter CG scenes, but they're relatively few and far between and aren't all that distracting.

Sure, a large percentage of The Universe is CG artistry, but that's just fine with me, especially with an end result that looks this good. The music, narration, sound effects and interview segments all sound okay, but it really leaves you scratching your head why blu-ray video presentation only warrants a 2.0 audio mix on this release. Fortunately, the audio still comes across clearly and blends well overall with the visual presentation. The extras receive about as much attention as the audio mix and are limited to an assorted list of random text-only facts and a series of miscellaneous still images. Taking a step back though, it's hard to say what extra features could be added to a release like this, aside from a technical featurette on the making of some of the series' stunning CG sequences.

While you won't leave this season with the knowledge of Sagan or Hawking, it will definitely succeed in opening your eyes and piquing your interest about the fascinating elements that come together in miraculous combinations to form The Universe. And with all the dreck on TV these days, it wouldn't hurt any of us to spend some time with a quality production like this.

The Verdict

The Universe: The Complete Season Three opens the viewer's eye to the wonders of existence beyond our world. Class dismissed.

Review content copyright © 2009 Kent Dixon; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 85

Perp Profile
Studio: History Channel
Video Formats:
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080i)

Audio Formats:
* PCM 2.0 Stereo (English)

* English

Running Time: 564 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* Universe Facts
* Photo Gallery

* IMDb

* Official Site