BBC Video // 2011 // 232 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // September 3rd, 2011
The universe...all at your fingertips.
Man has always asked questions. Why are we on this planet? From what primordial ooze did we spring? Why does one of my socks always get swallowed up in the dryer? Tracing our ancestry back billions of years, Wonders of the Universe explores our vast and fascinating origins, where we're at and where we're headed (*spoiler* We're all gonna die). In this captivating documentary Professor Brian Cox (the overseas academic, not the guy who first played Hannibal Lecter in Manhunter) traces back 13.7 billion years and doesn't stop until he reaches "the end." And by "the end" I mean, "a point where we, as a collective planet, never have to hear about Kim Kardashian again." Come along on this wild ride through the cosmos and find out all about the Wonders of the Universe!
Nothing like a documentary about the universe to put you in your place. Wonders of the Universe deals heavily with the passage of time (or 'arrow of time', as it's often noted) and how the one constant in the universe is that nothing ever stays the same. For those of you worried about how miserable you are in your job or how much money you don't have, fret not! You'll all be dead and forgotten within the blink of the cosmos' eye! Or as our host notes, "There will be one final, perfect day on earth. Then the existence of life on this planet will become impossible. Long after life is gone the sun will shine so often that it will fill the horizon forever. It will become a red giant in the last phase of its life. Our planet might not survive to that point but if it does it will be just barren rock that remains to witness the final death throws of our star." In summation, happy trails folks, and don't forget to tip your waitress!
Often I was reminded of the television show "Life After People" (well worth checking out in its own right) as Cox explores various locations that have been swallowed up by time. Ghost towns, lost civilizations and other abandoned portals of life are explored and scrutinized in this documentary. The laws of physics on how the passage of time happens is even touched upon (the 'second law of thermal dynamics') and why things fall apart in the world (or entropy). This is shown with a sand castle and a pile of sand -- the castle has high entropy (any change in the order shows a physical change in the structure) while the sand pile has low entropy (change won't be very apparent). All of this sums up what this documentary is about: the fact that our universe is constantly and endlessly changing no matter what we do, say or build. At times it can make your head spin. Cox notes that "the entire cosmos will die. Every single one of the two billion stars in our galaxy will go out. The death of every star will extinguish the possibility of life in the universe forever." This of course makes one truly wonder what the moment in history is like when nothing happens and it lasts forever. It's probably a lot like my first marriage (I'm sorry, the spirit of Henny Youngman has taken over this review).
Lest I make this sound like one big downer, the show also shines a light on a lot of other aspects of our universe and our planet, including the moon and space travel (I liked when Dr. Cox went for a spin in a centrifuge which looks about as fun as sticking flaming bamboo under your toenails). The documentary is filled with a lot of natural wonder, including a visit to Jupiter and a focus on our earth's amazing climate. At nearly four hours it's densely packed with enough vital information to make you feel like a second rate Stephen Hawking.
The show itself is a fascinating look at where we are in time, as well as where we've been and where we are going. The images here are often breathtaking; glaciers are shown in glorious widescreen as they break apart and fall into the ocean. The visuals are part of what make this documentary grand in scale -- there are moments that are truly breathtaking both on our planet and off of it. As for the host, Brian Cox (a British personality) is effective in his role, if sometimes a bit melodramatic about his enthusiasm for science and the universe. When Dr. Cox makes some profound statement about how big and grand life is, the camera lingers on him for just a split second as he stares in melancholy wonder at the audience as if to say, "If I could make sweet, sweet love to science, I would."
I can easily recommend Wonders of the Universe, even if it's a bit dry at times and drags at nearly four hours in length. Dr. Cox is an engaging personality (with a few minor quirks) and the information contained in the program is informative and entertaining. Spaceship not included.
Wonders of the Universe is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The transfer for this documentary is excellent -- 2|Entertain has made sure that the image is clear, very attractive (colors and black levels appear wonderfully realized) and about as good as you're going to get in standard definition. The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Stereo in English. The soundtrack gets the job done with sound effects, Cox's narration is clearly heard and the plucky, heart tugging musical score ends up being a nice touch. Also included on this disc are English subtitles.
There are no extra features available on either disc.
Wonders of the Universe will put you in your place -- and that place
is earth, which is about the size of a speck of dust in comparison to our
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 232 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated