The one thing Judge Victor Valdivia wants to know about the universe is: Why does it hate him so much?
Our reviews of The Universe: Collector's Set (published November 5th, 2008), The Universe: Complete Season Two (Blu-Ray) (published July 18th, 2009), The Universe: Our Solar System (Blu-Ray) (published August 24th, 2010), The Universe: The Complete Season Five (Blu-Ray) (published March 5th, 2011), The Universe: The Complete Season Four (published February 20th, 2010), The Universe: The Complete Season Four (Blu-Ray) (published March 4th, 2010), The Universe: The Complete Season Six (Blu-ray) (published May 5th, 2012), The Universe: The Complete Season Three (published May 23rd, 2009), The Universe: The Complete Season Three (Blu-ray) (published October 1st, 2009), The Universe: The Complete Season Two (published October 22nd, 2008), and The Universe: The Complete Series Megaset (Blu-Ray) (published April 13th, 2011) are also available.
Explore the edges of the unknown.
In its fourth season, The Universe seemed a good candidate for cancellation. The series still had some good episodes, but also seemed to stretch for ideas with truly dreadful attempts at speculative episodes that ended up looking like terrible Stargate ripoffs. Fortunately, this season, the show has righted itself and returned to what it does best: science. It still can't shed some of its more sensationalist trappings (which is unfortunately increasingly true of pretty much all History shows), but at least The Universe: The Complete Season Five has some genuine educational content. It's not quite The Universe at its best but it's much better than last season.
Here are the eight episodes compiled on two discs:
• "Mars: The New Evidence"
• "Magnetic Storm"
• "Time Travel"
• "Asteroid Attack"
• "Total Eclipse"
• "Dark Future of the Sun"
The first change that helps is that this season is only eight episodes long, instead of thirteen as previous ones were. This means that the show no longer has to stretch to fill time with the kind of speculative drivel that weakened last season. Instead, the eight episodes seen here are more rooted in science, with not much speculation. These are fascinating topics and the show treats them reasonably well. Computer animations, actual NASA footage and photographs, and interviews with scientists explain these topics more or less clearly. Some of the examples and analogies used can be a bit simplistic, but that understandable, since it's hard to tell just how extensive viewers' knowledge of astronomy and physics is. For the most part, though, the show doesn't talk down to viewers, so you'll find it entertaining and informative however much you know.
Of course, it wouldn't be History without some occasional cheap sensationalism. There are references to the end of all life on Earth scattered throughout, particularly in the episodes about Coronal Mass Ejections, the last days of the Sun, and asteroids. Why History feels the need to regularly scare the bejesus out of its viewers is hard to say, but it clearly works wonders for ratings, since they keep doing it over and over. There are even (sigh!) references to 2012 and the Mayan calendar, which is apparently de rigueur for all History shows, even the ones about loggers and ice road truckers. Viewers will have to sit patiently and grit their teeth through these parts, which are mercifully brief, and wait for their rewards, which come in the form of interviews with the always enchanting NASA astrophysicist Dr. Amy Mainzer. Under the circumstances, it's more than a fair trade.
This season of The Universe, then, is a step up from the last. If you were alienated from the show because of some of the sillier and more speculative episodes from last season, you can safely return, because there really aren't any more of those this season. Still, it's hard to imagine what other astronomical topics the show could cover, so it would be wise for History to quit while it's ahead and cancel the series after this season. This fifth season collection would be a worthy way for the show to go out on top.
Technical specs are typical History: non-anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer, Dolby stereo mix, both nice if not dazzling. There are no extras.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: History Channel
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