DVD Review – The History Channel Presents – The Universe: Season 1

Purchase The Universe: Season 1 from Amazon.com
Purchase "The Universe: Season 1" from Amazon.com

There have been many excellent documentary series about our cosmos and how it works.  Many of them, particularly Cosmos, Stephen Hawking’s Universe, and The Elegant Universe, have been hosted by noted astrophysicists, astronomers and cosmologists, such as the late Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, and Brian Green (respectively). They’ve also generally been on public broadcasting, or on channels like the Discovery Channel or The Learning Channel – which focus on science programming. The History Channel has now started running The Universe, a series on our universe and our solar system, how it works, and what it’s like, and how we know what we know about it. So, the question is, is the show on par with the documentaries I’ve already mentioned, or does it kind of fumble the ball like The Dark Ages did?

The Premise

Covering everythng from how our solar system formed, to the properties of the various planets, to the threat to our planet from Near Earth Objects and Gamma Ray Bursts, to The Big Bang and how we learned about it, the show covers a multitude of topics about our Solar System, using visual analogies, computer generation representations of planets, asteroids and events, and interviews with cosmologists, physicists, and astronomers to explain how the universe works.

The Good

The presentation and explanation of everything is excellent. Everything is described in a user friendly fashion, and, I have to say, I understood some concepts that I didn’t quite grasp better than I did before I watched the documentary (particularly with how Solar Fusion works.) The interviews are very well done, and they have some excellent physicists speaking on here, particularly Brian Greene (who I mentioned previously), Michio Kaku (physicist working on String Theory), and Neil DiGrasse Tyson (who hosted another documentary series on physics for PBS). Carl Sagan even gets a shout-out.

The Bad

Some of the special effects shots are, frankly, pretty dire. It really got the impresson across that they’re doing this on less of a budget then PBS has.

The Ugly

The show has some of the sensationalism problems that the Dark Ages had, but not as bad. The discussion of Near Earth Objects and Gamma Ray Bursts wiping out the planet are sensationalist topics (and they’re not entirely unreasonable, though NEO’s are more reasonable to be concerned about than Gamma Ray Bursts, particularly considering we can’t do anything about Gamma Ray Bursts, except be off planet at the time.) However, when the Documentary gets to the “Big Rip” theory of the end of the universe, then things get silly. The Big Rip theory is a relatively recent theory that hasn’t gotten quite as much traction as the Big Chill theory of the end of the universe. Basically, the Big Rip theory says that dark matter and dark energy will put a greater strain on gravity then we think, and eventually, as the universe expands, dark energy will tear everything in the universe apart, all the way to the sub atomic level. This is not expected to happen for billions of years. Oh, and for the record, the Big Chill theory basically means that as the universe keeps expanding, and things get farther and farther apart, eventually it will become too difficult for the material scattered by a star going nova to seed other stars and planets elsewhere in the galaxy, and consequently, the universe will slowly chill out.

The Verdict

This was really a lot better than I anticipated. Most science documentary junkies (like myself) will probably not se a lot of new stuff here (though there will be some bits that are different). But, I would say, reasonably, that The Universe would be in about the same league as the documentaries I mentioned at the start of this review. It’s not a first stringer, but it’s got it where it counts, and I would say that it’s a worthy companion to Comos (particularly with regards to scientific developments since Sagan did his documentary). I’d say that this is worth picking up.

(Particularly since Cosmos is really expensive!)