Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Universe – Season 5 Blu-ray Review

I recently reviewed an episode that was was excerpted from this season five set, The Universe – 7 Wonders of the Solar System in 3D which you can read here, and this is the review for the complete season set.  The Universe does a great job covering many aspects of science and future possibilities and making it accessible for average viewers.  This two disc set contains all eight episodes that total 376 minutes of viewing time.
For those of you that aren’t aware of the show, it’s a documentary series that premiered in 2007 on The History Channel that explains astronomical concepts and objects through the use of computer generated graphics and a group of experts whose expertise includes astronomy, cosmology, and astrophysics.

Film (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)

I’m a big fan of The History Channel but I’ve mostly watched World War II programs so I wasn’t aware that the channel had branched out to other areas such as space until I was offered this set to review.  This is one of those shows that not only teaches you new things but also makes you want to stock up your underground shelter to prepare for disaster.  Between magnetic storms, asteroids, and our future assured destruction from the sun, this show definitely makes you think about stocking up on water bottles and gas.
Most of us know about the sun and the risk of a stray asteroid hitting the Earth again, but I wasn’t really aware of what kind of devastation will occur from a magnetic storm from the sun.  Right now our magnetic field protects us from the worst the sun throws at us but every once in a while the magnetic poles shift direction and while that happens our shield will be gone we would be completely defenseless which would be cataclysmic if a magnetic storm hit us then.  It’s been a long time since the last shift so we are due for another one any time and the sun is supposed to be even more active in the future so we all better hope for the best.
I love these kind of shows that teach you new things as well as broaden what knowledge you might already have on certain subjects.  Like the other fantastic History Channel shows, this one is done with good production values and in a away that doesn’t try to make you feel stupid.   The experts brought in to discuss the topics are indeed professionals in their field and not just talking heads and they explain things in ways that people can relate to.  I also liked the topics that the show focuses on as they are also subjects that interest me as well.
The CGI is pretty good and it’s obvious that a lot time and the bulk of the production budget has gone into making the solar system look as realistic and impressive as possible.  With the CGI spaceship that transports the viewers through the solar system, the show has a found a good angle to teach and dazzle viewers at the same time.  The show moves quickly which makes viewing the show go by fast and keeps you interested.  Here are the episodes found on the two disc as originally described:
Disc One:
7 Wonders of the Solar System – We are in the midst of the greatest era of space discovery. 21st century spacecraft and sophisticated imaging technology are venturing into un-chartered territory every day–and much of the extraordinary phenomenon is happing right in our own cosmic backyard. Take an exhilarating, unprecedented exploration of the seven most amazing wonders of our solar system. Our virtual tour begins with a trip to Enceladus, one of Saturn’s outer moons, where icy geysers spout from its surface. Then venture to Saturn’s famous rings, which contain mountain ranges that rival the Alps. Next dive into the eye of the biggest storm in the solar system–Jupiter’s Great Red Spot. Soar through the Asteroid Belt, containing millions of leftover rocks from the formation of the solar system. Trek up Mount Olympus, the largest volcano, located on Mars. Have a close encounter with the searing surface of the sun, and finish the journey by exploring our home planet Earth.
Mars: The New Evidence – In the last few years, the Red Planet has yielded up many new clues that life may have once existed there…and may even exist there today. There is now have proof that water once flowed on the surface, that Mars once had lakes, and that the frozen poles are mostly water, not carbon dioxide as previously thought. Mars has snow–an aurora–and lightning generated by dust storms. Most intriguing of all are the seasonal plumes of methane that just may point to bacteria living below the surface.
Magnetic Storm – It bursts from the sun with the power of ten thousand nuclear weapons… and when it hits our planet, it could create the largest disaster in recorded history. A magnetic storm from the sun could wipe out electrical power, television, radio, military communication, and nearly every piece of electronics in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s a “Solar Katrina” — a planet-wide “hurricane” of magnetic forces that scramble all 21st Century technology, possibly for good. What causes this magnetic superstorm? Why is magnetism so powerful — and yet so poorly understood? And is there anything we can do to prevent the Magnetic Storm?
Time Travel – One of the Universe’s most enduring mysteries is Time Travel. In this episode, we explore the possibilities. Discover why Time Travel into the future is unavoidable in the Einsteinian world of Relativity. As for the past… the laws of physics do not tell us it’s impossible, but the bizarre consequences of going into the past and altering the future make for mind-bending science. Finally, we go for the future by traveling to the nearest star, 4.3 light years away… in only 45 days. Our destination may be an Earth-like planet; a planet scientists are now hunting for, and may find in the next 3 to 4 years.
Disc Two
Secrets of the Space Probes – They’ve discovered water on other planets, and snatched the actual building blocks of life from a comet’s tail. But can space probes find a new Earth…and even make contact with alien life? In the 21st century, space probes are photographing, drilling and even sniffing new worlds in the quest for life, and scanning thousands of distant suns trying to detect Earth-like planets. It’s only a matter of time before space probes unlock the secrets to extra-terrestrial life and the universe itself.
Asteroid Attack – What are the latest discoveries in the deadly world of asteroids? Will a recently returned Japanese spacecraft become the first to bring an asteroid sample back to our planet? What would happen to America’s East Coast if the massive asteroid impact that helped form Chesapeake Bay 35 million years ago struck today? And why did President Barack Obama choose an asteroid as the destination for the next great manned mission into space? Learning about these huge space rocks isn’t just about science, it’s about survival.
Total Eclipse – Once they were dreaded and thought to be dragons eating the sun–but modern science has dispelled mythology and we now look forward to total Solar Eclipses as one of the most spectacular phenomena in the heavens. Explore the complex movements of Earth, Moon and Sun that produce these unusual events and hear details why we may be the only intelligent beings in the known Universe to witness eclipses like we see on Earth. Man-made eclipses also figure into the science in the form of instruments called “coronagraphs.” They blot out the sun and reveal its corona, uncovering secrets which, while enlightening, also warn of a disaster that could make our advanced technology crash and burn. Finally, travel into deep space, where the tiny eclipses caused by planets circling distant stars is now beginning to reveal hundreds more stars where “exoplanets” exist… perhaps even those in habitable zones like the Earth.
Dark Future of the Sun – Our Sun has served Earth well for almost five billion years. It’s bathed us with heat and energy. But like humans, our home star is mortal. In five billion years, it will stop nurturing its planetary offspring. The aging star will bloat out beyond the orbit of our planet incinerating all living things–including humans if we’re still around.

Video (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

This 1080p (1.33:1) transfer looks very nice and detailed.  Colors are especially vivid especially during the segment on the Sun and the Earth and the black levels are suitably dark and inky.  I wasn’t as impressed with the live action parts with the experts superimposed on an image that isn’t as seamless as it should be.  The space parts are where the image quality shines and they look fantastic.

Audio (4 out of 5 stars) 

The DTS-HD Master Audio  5.1 surround track is better than I thought it would be. While the dialogue and music mostly come from the front speakers, the satellite speakers are used as well and there’s some nice panning effects with the spaceship and effects.  The narration from Erik Thompson comes across clearly despite the music and effects.

Special Features ( 0 out of 5 stars) 

There are no special features on this disc.

Final Thoughts (4 out of 5 stars) 

This is a very informative show and I learned a lot from this season.  I especially liked the episodes about the magnetic storms and time travel but all of them were very good.  If you are  interested in either astronomy, science, and/or cosmology, then you will most likely enjoy this show.  I wish they would include some extras which should be fairly easy to do considering the wide array of subjects they could devote more time to.  Overall, I really liked the show and now I have another show to start watching on the History Channel!
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