Judge Eric Profancik was essentially spaced from watching too many Science Channel documentaries.
The Essential Space Collection presents six shows from The Science Channel centered on the theme of space—and more specifically our solar system.
"95 Worlds and Counting" (49:52) talks about the 95 moons in our solar system, details a few of the more scientifically intriguing and active ones (Triton, Io, Phobos, the Moon, Titan, and Europa), and posits how one of them may unlock the key to life outside of Earth.
"Space Shuttle: Countdown to Comeback" (41:30) is from the channel's Big Science series and explores the shuttle Discovery and the safety measures put into place after the disaster with its sister ship, Columbia. Much time is spent on the foam insulation and the new inspection techniques used in space to make sure another accident won't occur.
"Black Sky: The Race for Space" (44:29) details Burt Rutan's entrepreneurial efforts to win the $10 million X Prize to be the first private enterprise to send a ship into space. "The Charge" above is from the episode showing an onlooker's appreciation that the private spacecraft did what the government could not: build an affordable, simple rocket.
"Base Camp Moon" (52:25) shows the preparations NASA is doing to set up a future base on the Moon and the subsequent technological innovations that we are now enjoying on Earth.
"Starship Orion: The Future of Space Travel" (48:02) is the story of NASA and Lockheed Martin's collaboration to develop the next generation of spacecraft, replacing the aging Space Shuttle fleet.
"Space Station Live: HD" (27:57) is the first broadcast from space, specifically the International Space Station, in high definition.
With these brief descriptions out of the way, what did I think of these four and a half hours of television? While most of the material was interesting on some level, I'm sorry to say that too much of it was a bit on the boring side. It's informative, it gives a good overview of some things in our solar system, but it never attains the realization of its title. Quite simply, this is not an essential collection of episodic television describing various facets of outer space. It's a tall bill to be labeled essential, and this set doesn't make it. Clearly the material is not a loss at all; it's just too dry at times, focusing too much on CGI of what the moons look like and what we may do there one day. Luckily one of the episodes, "Black Sky," comes down to Earth and tells us a story. It's a fascinating and riveting story of real people, their ambitions, their desires; and how they put blood, sweat, tears, their dreams, and their lives on the line to push the boundaries of everyday man. Watching them build their craft, SpaceShip One, seeing it go into space, the great black sky, and seeing their jubilation reminds you of the spirit of man. Look how good we can be when we try. Also of note is the final episode on the disc, the "live" segment presented in HD. I remember watching this one back in the day, and it was pretty cool at the time. Space footage is often grainy, static-y, and blurry; but not here. It's amazing what HD technology can do, and it'll take your breath away as you feel like you could fall miles down to Earth.
One final note: Most of the episodes discuss various future timetables for man's return to space—where we want to be by such and such year. Most of those dates have already come and gone with no success on most of those projects. That is quite unfortunate.
Moving on to the technical review, let's talk about the bonus features first: There are none, nada, not even a single trailer.
Let's talk about the subtitles. Again, there aren't any. Shame! There should always be subtitles.
How about the audio? Yes, we do have audio, and every episode features a simple Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo mix. Overall, it's a serviceable track without any flash or fanfare, giving clean dialogue from the front speakers. I detected no significant hiss or errors on the disc. Of note, I did feel the "Black Sky" episode's audio felt a bit thinner (more hollow) on occasion.
For the video, we have two different ratios so we'll break this part up in two. The first three episodes—"95 Worlds," "Space Shuttle," and "Black Sky"—are all in full frame. All of them are fairly unspectacular television quality material with nothing looking superb and just one minor quibbles: In "95 Worlds" I saw some black, horizontal streaking. Colors, details, and contrast are all satisfactory though the overall picture feels a bit flat and lifeless. On the last three episodes—"Base Camp," "Orion," and "Live"—the ratio changes to 1.85:1 anamorphic. Concurrent with that is an uptick in picture quality with better colors, details, and contrast. It all looks a bit better culminating in the "Live: HD" piece which is quite stunning. The high definition picture shines with brilliant details and clarity giving the viewer just a bit of vertigo at times. It's the best of the pack.
All in all, Essential Space Collection is a collection of mildly interesting yet mostly unremarkable documentaries about our solar system. Surely you will find some segments better than others, but the entire package is simply not essential for your collection. As a result, I cannot recommend any purchase of the disc. You're better off looking for reruns on the Science Channel instead.
Essential Space Collection is hereby found guilty of false advertising. It is sentenced to scrub the zero gravity toilets by hand.
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