Jjuuddggee Aaddaamm Aarrsseenneeaauu iiss ppeerrffeeccttllyy ffiinnee, tthhannkk yyoouu. Wwhhyy ddoo yyoouu aasskk?
Making the invisible visible.
The first season of Time Warp, the popular Discovery Channel show, makes its way to Blu-Ray, showcasing all manner of high-speed camera and slow-motion eye candy. Time Warp: Season One (Blu-Ray) is sure to delight those looking for compelling visuals, but the enjoyment factor of the show itself leaves much to be desired.
Facts of the Case
Explore the hidden world with Jeff Lieberman and Matt Kearney as they reveal events that happen much too quickly or too slowly to be perceived by our senses. With cutting-edge slow-motion cameras, Jeff and Matt capture the everyday world around us, and some radical and startling demonstrations of human endurance and performance—and unlock the secrets of motion itself. This is Time Warp.
Time Warp: Season One (Blu-Ray) contains all twenty episodes (plus the pilot as a bonus feature) spread across two Blu-Ray discs, listed below along with the subjects of interest shot in slow-motion:
• "Stone Breaking"—Martial artist breaking
stones, Mentos and Diet Coke, dog catching Frisbees.
Time Warp is a drunken MIT student's technological wet dream; a Jackass-inspired quasi-scientific exploration of nonsensical events with ultra-high speed cameras. Ever want to put butane lighters in a blender? How about breathe fire? Shoot your buddy with paintballs? Or punch a guy in the face? Take it to the next level by videotaping it all! It is, after all, the very essence of the Internet generation, especially the parts where people get horribly hurt. Entire video memes are created this way. Well, Time Warp ups the ante with the application of slow motion, allowing every freakish detail to be shown. Why? It's for the same reason that Johnny Knoxville and friends strap ice blocks on their feet and roller skate down a hill, friends…just for kicks. Drunken, drunken kicks.
At first glance a science documentary, Time Warp is more about making your eyes go agog than stimulating your brain. There's science at work here, but none easily accessible; outside of the "ooh" factor in seeing everyday events slowed down to ridiculous speeds, there really is zero education going on. There is no great purpose, no dialogue or discussion to the events, no justification for breaking out hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of expensive video technology, save for Beavis and Butthead-style chortling and guffawing over the results. There's so much potential here in Time Warp, but with no judicial application of restraint or greater purpose, dudes inevitably do what dudes do when they get a video camera…they film their buddies getting shot with a taser. In slow motion, dude! Time Warp was picked up by the Discovery Channel, but it could have easily found a home on MTV.
Speaking of the Discovery Channel, it's difficult to discuss Time Warp without comparing it directly to another show on the same network, MythBusters, which is probably something that bugs the heck out of the Time Warp folks. Ultra high-speed camera footage found great audience appeal on the myth-smashing show—so why not take that one part and make it the entire focus of a show? Time Warp even borrows a near-identical format and narrative style, slapping a jocular voiceover atop every sequence imaginable, dropping buzzwords and faux-dramatic gravitas. The comparisons get even uglier by the Discovery Channel airing Time Warp directly beside episodes of MythBusters, suggesting that even the network feels the shows are simpatico. These are dangerous comparisons for Time Warp, because no matter how you slice it, Time Warp is the inferior product.
Say what you will about the scientific method at work in MythBusters, there's always a method to the madness. The high-speed camera footage, while always impressive, is almost always a means to an end—a record of tested events for analysis to achieve a goal. How scientific that goal ends up being (blowing stuff up) is arguable, but in Time Warp, the ends don't justify the means, because there's no purpose to it beyond the simple art of the high-speed camera capture. The moments when we see the footage are dramatic and gripping, and the opportunity to observe the events in slow motion often acquires an ethereal beauty about it. Problem is, we get about a minute of footage per episode of Time Warp, and the rest of the show is a time waste of magnanimous proportions.
The idea of the show in of itself, of reveling in the beauty of high-speed footage, is sound, but so much dishonesty, deception, and self-importance goes into filling the gaps around these bits of footage that Time Warp feels leaden and wholly unwatchable. There is intellectual dishonesty at work here at such a profound level here that it gives me a headache. One cannot argue that Time Warp captures some truly jawdropping sequences of pure aesthetic beauty, artful capturing of explosions, of destruction and human endurance slowed down to impossible levels. But then, as if insecure about the transparency of its own motivations, Time Warp tacks on the aforementioned narrator, who constantly tries to psyche up audiences as to the incredible groundbreaking world-shattering stunning scientific merit of these experiments. Slow-motion shots, pieces of art in their own right, are sped up and slowed down obnoxiously, rewound and played backwards at random like a five-year-old kid at an editing board playing with the big black knob. Sound effects are pasted atop the footage, as if audiences are unprepared at seeing explosions or destruction with the appropriate crashing or smashing sound accompanying it. The slow-motion footage is constantly (and dramatically) referred to as "warp time," a meaningless buzzword certain to give Stephen Hawking fits from his wheelchair every time he hears it.
For a show that promises science and profundity at every turn, none is delivered, not even a morsel. Every second spend watching Time Warp is a struggle between wanting to see the next bit of interesting high-speed footage, and weathering the 20 minutes of filler and padding stuck in-between that seems so intent on insulting your intelligence.
The 1080i presentation is handsome for a television show, lacking the detail and color saturation one would expect from a feature film, but still offering up impressive levels of detail and skin tones. The high-speed footage has an impressive level of fidelity, and considering how tens many tens of thousands of frames are whizzing by, it darn well better. Blu-Ray is absolutely the format to be seeing this kind of amazing footage in. I fully admit to being taken in by the charm of the show during stunning sequences of macrocosmic beauty, like water rivulets and droplets cascading, soap bubbles popping in elegant slow motion, archery arrows flying, items being frozen in liquid nitrogen—all captured perfectly. Some sequences exhibit fantastic detail, while others are full of grain and noise, no doubt heavily affected by ambient lighting. Outdoor sequences are the finest looking, where the color saturation wakes up and the image looks natural and vibrant.
The disc includes a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 presentation, and while the lossless codec support is appreciated, the fidelity is largely wasted here, though through no fault of the show itself. Most of the slow-motion footage is video only, so there's nothing to record in that sense—all we get is a center channel dialogue-centric mix with little rear channel activity save for some swooshing special effects added during the "time warp" segments. For a documentary-style television show with audio recorded live, this is about as clear and simple of a presentation as one could hope for. Your home theater won't even break a sweat.
To be perfectly accurate, there are no extras included on this disc. The packaging suggests that the inclusion of the pilot episode should constitute this set's lone offering…but we're smarter than that, right?
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I've been pretty hard on Time Warp, but I'm bothered by the bar being set so uncomfortably low. Time Warp is a show about recreating Internet memes and YouTube videos with gigantic, expensive video cameras, about punching dudes in the face and throwing water balloons in slow motion. Anyone who spends thirty seconds watching it realizes this, but the show seems in denial about it. Spending thirty seconds vaguely discussing the physics behind the water balloon throw in a 22-minute episode doesn't constitute a scientific documentary any more than a Looney Tunes cartoon.
A little honesty would go a long way here. I'd be much happier with Time Warp coming clean, dropping the poor pretence at exploration and science and just coming out of the closet. No science, no hype-man narrator, no flimsy pretence at making things unnecessarily science-fictional—just two dudes with a high-speed camera, creating big-budget versions of YouTube Internet video memes, and laughing at how awesome they are afterwards.
An interesting idea poorly executed, Time Warp is not the finest of Discovery Channel shows. However, the attention-grabbing and gimmicky appeal of its high-speed footage is hard to challenge on the basis of sheer wow factor. This goes double for Blu-Ray, because if you're going to see the show, Time Warp: Season One (Blu-ray) is absolutely the way to do it. The show itself suffers from a horrible narrator, a clumsy format, and poor editing, but it's hard to deny the aesthetic beauty of watching high-speed footage in glorious high definition.
It may lack intellectual merit, but Time Warp is undeniably nifty at times, especially on Blu-Ray. Not guilty…but just barely.
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