BBC Video // 2010 // 300 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Kent Dixon (Retired) // September 12th, 2010
Experience the extraordinary...in our planet's own backyard.
I know I've said it before, but the BBC really has a strangle hold on hi-def nature documentaries. Dating back to Planet Earth in 2006, the network has done a solid job of bringing the wonders of our own planet, as well as our solar system and the universe, into living rooms in stunning HD. Not to be outdone by their colleagues across the pond, the History Channel answered back with their own astronomical (pardon the pun!) series The Universe in 2007. Anyone familiar with The Universe would likely agree that over the five seasons and 63 episodes of the series to date, most, if not all of the possible topics on our solar system and the universe have been covered, so what could Wonders of the Solar System possibly have to offer?
It's worth noting that, as I was a given pre-release screener copies of Wonders of the Solar System for my review, they may not reflect the quality or content of the final retail release.
All five episodes of Wonders of the Solar System are included on two discs as follows:
* "Empire of the Sun"
* "Order Out of Chaos"
* "The Thin Blue Line"
* "Dead or Alive"
What I found particularly appealing about Wonders of the Solar System versus The Universe, is that the majority of the larger concepts in Wonders are introduced and then grounded in specific, parallel examples. For instance, the thin atmosphere that protects our planet is one of the main factors that, when absent, keeps other planets like Mars from supporting life. And to get an idea of how our solar system may have developed, with a central body and other bodies forming from orbiting debris, you only need to look as far as Saturn, its moons and rings for a similar concept and structure.
Our guide on this cosmological journey is Professor Brian Cox, a 40-something British physicist who could easily blend in onstage with his fellow Manchester sons from the rock band Oasis. Not only is Cox known as a semi-regular presenter for BBC programs, he also enjoyed some pop band notoriety in the 80s and early 90s as a keyboard player for two pop bands. Far from a stodgy science type, Cox is so laid back he's practically horizontal, but he still manages to infuse enough enthusiasm into his delivery to engage viewers in the mystery and wonder of it all.
It seems that with every new space documentary, the CGI imagery gets a bit better, giving viewers a more believable window into the near infinite reaches of the known and unknown universe. Another stand-out feature of Wonders of the Solar System is the compelling and inspiring soundtrack by composer Sheridan Tongue. Aside from Planet Earth, this is the first time I've found myself wishing I could actually buy the soundtrack CD for a documentary. Tongue has composed soundtracks for other BBC productions and uses his noticeable talents here to deliver a wide range of subtle underscores, dramatic rock-infused themes and sweeping compositions that all suit the on-screen moods to a tee.
While some BBC HD productions, such as How the Earth Changed History, have been somewhat inconsistent in their Blu-ray video presentation, I'm pleased to say that Wonders of the Solar System didn't suffer the same fate. The 1080i image is crisp and clear throughout, contrast is solid, the blackness of space is as it should be, and the wide color palette seen throughout the series is indeed a wonder to behold. On the audio front; with a diverse mix of sound effects, narration, music and other elements all playing a role in the audio mix; it's impressive that no one element overpowers any other. The only extra features included with this release are two bonus episodes from the Brian Cox-hosted BBC series Horizon; they're okay, but are presented in SD and are nothing too serious to miss if you're pressed for viewing time.
In April 2010, Brian Cox tweeted that Wonders is already on production for a second series of episodes that will explore broader topics that extend into the universe beyond our solar system. With a hip but knowledgeable host, cool space science content and the latest CG and production tools at their disposal, here's to many more seasons of BBC's Wonders.
Review content copyright © 2010 Kent Dixon; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080i)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus Episodes
* Official Site
* Brian Cox Site