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The Cosmos: A Beginner's Guide

Acorn Media // 2007 // 169 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Kent Dixon (Retired) // March 31st, 2011

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All Rise...

Judge Kent Dixon likes to learn by Cosmosis.

The Charge

It's the story of everything: from the first microseconds of our universe, to the exciting future of first contact and homes beyond our Earth.

The Case

Hosted by award-winning presenter and writer Adam Hart-Davis and debuting on the BBC in 2007, The Cosmos takes viewers on some exciting adventures as each episode explores a fascinating aspect of our universe. They all follows essentially the same formula, with Hart-Davis introducing and explaining a complex concept, then seeking out the scientists and technology that are at work to gain more understanding and insight into the given area. All six episodes of The Cosmos: A Beginner's Guide are included with this release, spread over two discs as follows:

Disc One

• "Life in the Cosmos"
Are we alone in the universe? Scientists have been working on the answer to that very question since the late 1800s. Cool fact: Our TV signals have been leaking out into space for decades, so if there's intelligent life out there, let's hope they don't change the channel!

• "Building the Universe"
What is stardust made of? What caused the Big Bang and can that early genesis of life be replicated today? Scientists working with the Large Hadron Collider, buried deep under Geneva, are trying to create mini stars and deep-space probes are gathering dust…literally!

• "Seeing the Universe"
Telescopes have helped us see into our galaxy and beyond for many years. With today's mega-telescopes, scientists are seeing much more and at greater distances, widening the scope of The Cosmos. Maggie Aderin covers much of the content in this episode, sharing cool facts about how scientists are now working to gauge the rate at which our universe is expanding.

Disc Two

• "Space Exploration"
At this point, the limit of our space exploration is the International Space Station, but scientists are hard at work to answer an important question: What would it take for scientists and astronauts to live and work on Mars?

• "Violent Universe"
Our universe can be a very violent place, filled with solar storms, supernovas and meteorites. Hart-Davis speaks with researchers who are studying violent events and their potential impacts on Earth.

• "Other Worlds"
At the summit of an extinct volcano in the Canary Islands, researchers are using an amazing telescope called "SuperWASP" (Wide Angle Search for Planets) to find new worlds outside our solar system. Scientists in other parts of the world are also using powerful telescopes to search the heavens, and teams around the globe have discovered more than 200 planets around other stars in the universe.

Is the content you'll find in The Cosmos anything too astounding or revolutionary? Not really, but there's something about Hart-Davis and his co-presenters, scientists Janet Sumner and Maggie Aderin, that help make the content both more accessible and engaging for casual viewers. These folks aren't "voice of God" narrators, but viewers can relate to them as guides through some pretty complex concepts, explaining things along the way.

Another refreshing element of The Cosmos is that, unlike U.S. science series like How the Earth Was Made and The Universe, you won't find any of ridiculous sensationalism here. This is pure science and technology, but explained in such a way that even those of us with relatively little knowledge of astronomy, geology and the like will still be engaged and leave each episode with some cool new knowledge.

The Cosmos: A Beginner's Guide comes with a companion book that offers additional information on each episode, and a still gallery of Apollo astronauts is also included on disc one.

Being fairly well immersed in the Blu-ray world for much of my viewing, I kept thinking how fantastic this series would look in HD. Fortunately, the SD presentation is relatively sharp, showing no signs of damage or wear on the source material. The audio mix is well-balanced between narration, interview dialog and music; it's just unfortunate we aren't offered a 5.1 option that would give the mix a bit more wiggle room.

The Verdict

The BBC has done an excellent job with The Cosmos: A Beginner's Guide, delivering an engaging series that covers some fantastic topics about our universe, without bogging them down in technical jargon. This is an easy recommendation for students, teachers, and casual viewers alike.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 92

Perp Profile

Studio: Acorn Media
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• English (SDH)
Running Time: 169 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• All Ages
• Documentary
• Science and Nature
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• Photo Gallery
• Booklet


• IMDb
• PBS Nature

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