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Case Number 15954: Small Claims Court

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Stephen Hawking And The Theory Of Everything

Acorn Media // 2008 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // March 18th, 2009

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All Rise...

Judge Clark Douglas is positively convinced the ultimate answer has something to do with cheese.

The Charge

The legendary physicist's search for the secrets of the universe.

The Case

Have you ever read Professor Stephen Hawking's book A Brief History of Time? If the answer is no, don't feel too bad. The book is often regarded as "the least-read best-seller of all time." In the book, Hawking explores a wide variety of fascinating theories about time, space, and the creation of the universe. The book is somewhat unique in the way that it manages to explain extremely complex mathematical theories without ever resorting to presenting equations. Hawking determined to create an explanation of rather heady concepts for the layman. Alas, many remained unable to grasp some of Hawking's concepts, and to this date have A Brief History of Time sitting on the shelf with a bookmark in chapter two.

Of course, Hawking has been diagnosed with a form of ALS (also known as "Lou Gehrig's Disease"), and his body continues to slowly but surely degenerate. He's almost completely paralyzed now, but he has continued to remain a very active and very vocal figure in both the scientific community and in popular culture. He continues to give illustrated lectures across the country, and has released updated variants on A Brief History of Time such as A Briefer History of Time and The Universe in a Nutshell. The idea of such a physically impaired body playing host to one of the world's most brilliant minds is a concept that has a primal fascination for a lot of people, and it has helped Hawking reach a certain level of celebrity. Hawking has embraced his status as a celebrity figure of sorts, appearing as himself on everything from The Simpsons to Star Trek: The Next Generation. However, Hawking has never lost focus of the big picture. He continues to examine and fine-tune his concepts, and now claims to be searching for a "theory of everything."

This documentary, originally created for the Science Channel, documents Hawking's current progress as he attempts to reach this theory of everything. The documentary opens with a brief biography of Hawking, which is far and away the least substantial portion of the documentary. Though Hawking has a very compelling life story, this section almost feels a bit patronizing. Fellow scientists and an excited narrator talk about how courageous and brave Hawking is, and how much they all admire him for overcoming adversity. Once we're done with this rather lightweight section, we move along to the substance of the documentary.

We hear from Hawking himself from time to time, with that familiar robotic voice offering a sentence or two of insight and wisdom. However, for practical purposes, a host of Hawking's friends and colleagues have been tapped to cover most of the material. Theories about black holes, the nature of time, and other fascinating subjects are illustrated with a combination of CGI effects and easy-to-understand lectures. Granted, the documentary often feels a bit lightweight considering the subject matter (even in contrast to Hawking's fairly accessible books), but if this were much more detailed, it would probably lose the vast majority of viewers (including myself…though I'm fascinated by Hawking's ideas, I'm hardly enough of a physics whiz to capture the true complexity of this stuff). As it is, the documentary offers viewers a tantalizing taste of what Hawking has to offer. My hope would be that it would inspire viewers to dig a little deeper into Hawking's work, and progress forward from there.

If you're wondering whether the documentary actually provides a "theory of everything," no, of course it doesn't. In fact, it spends as much time talking about what we don't know as it does talking about what we do know. That's science for you. Yes, we may know some things about the manner in which the universe came into being, but there are so many questions that remain unanswered. There are deep questions here that have fascinated many human beings, and have been the source of heated debate among both academics and ordinary folks. Was God (or some other higher power) involved in the world's creation, or is our world an entirely self-generated entity? Does the theory of time travel work, and if so, would it ever be physically possible for a human being to survive such a process? These questions are merely the tip of the iceberg here. It's very interesting stuff, and I imagine that it would be rather difficult for most viewers not to be pulled in (though some may grow indignant when questions that potentially contradict their religious beliefs come up).

The transfer here is reasonably solid, conveying this rather bright and vibrant-looking documentary with clarity and acceptable depth. The colorful CGI effects look quite good here, and the level of facial and background detail is solid. The audio is just fine, though at times I think they could have cut back on the somewhat cheesy faux-Philip Glass synthesizer score. There are no extras included on the disc. I will note that the disc opens with a lot of promos for various products from Acorn Media…boy, this company puts out a lot of cool stuff, huh?

Those familiar with Hawking's book don't really need Stephen Hawking and the Theory of Everything, but the average viewer will probably find this stuff very engaging. It's worth a rental.

Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 85

Perp Profile

Studio: Acorn Media
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• English (SDH)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Documentary

Distinguishing Marks

• None

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