History Channel // 2007 // 846 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // October 22nd, 2008
In the beginning, there was darkness, and then, bang -- giving birth to an endless, expanding existence of time, space and matter. Now, see further than we've ever imagined, beyond the limits of our existence, in a place we call The Universe.
The second season of the History Channel's "edutainment" series (to quote my colleague, Judge Brett Cullum) is very much like the first. Cool graphics, slightly breathless narration, music that points and counterpoints, and sound bites from science experts come together to tell stories of our solar system and beyond. Eighteen episodes are spread over five discs:
* "Alien Planets"
* "Cosmic Holes"
* "Mysteries of the Moon"
* "The Milky Way"
* "Alien Moons"
* "Dark Matter"
* "Space Travel"
* "Unexplained Mysteries"
* "Cosmic Collisions"
* "Colonizing Space"
* "Wildest Weather in the Cosmos"
* "Biggest Things in Space"
* "Cosmic Apocalypse"
This is science for poets, audience friendly and graphics heavy. The goal is to educate and entertain, and The Universe does both handily. The show has a definite "Saturday morning" vibe about it, and in addition to the eye-popping graphics, we get such middle-school stand-bys as using a roller coaster to illustrate the concept of gravity and having a tennis ball circle a basketball to explain orbit.
The shows look good. Although the transfer is not anamorphic, the episodes are clear and bright, looking pretty much the way they did when broadcast. The stereo audio track is solid. Each episode runs approximately 45 minutes, and they are broken up with chapter stops.
The lone extra is a 53-minute featurette, "Backyard Astronomers." This is actually quite a nice little extra, giving an overview of the planets and constellations, as well as a look at the night sky of every month of the year. "Backyard Astronomers" takes an interdisciplinary approach, offering background on the mythological origins of the names of planets and stars.
With episodes titled "Biggest Things in Space" and "Mysteries of the Moon," it's clear that this is aimed at families and young science jocks. The Universe is far more sophisticated than the standard children's science program, though, both engaging and thought provoking.
Many of the experts are more than just talking heads. One woman explains how planets orbit stars through belly dancing and swinging a flaming chain. Another of the more entertaining experts is "planetary scientist and musician" David Grinspoon of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Appearing in the episode "Astrobiology," which examines the origins of life on Earth and hypothesizes about life on other planets, Grinspoon's off-beat but logical worldview is exactly the kind of creative thinking that young people should be exposed to. He talks about man becoming one with machine because of our dependence on technology and imagines a future in which humans and aliens are sharing their musical cultures. As well made as the series is, it's additions like this that elevate it to the realm of special.
Ambitious and intelligent, The Universe: The Complete Season Two is well worth picking up, particularly if you have school-age children. It's rare to find a program that does so well at feeding into intellectual curiosity and while keeping its sense of fun.
Review content copyright © 2008 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: History Channel
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 846 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* "Backyard Astronomers"
* Official Site
* David Grinspoon's Site