Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Universe: The Complete Season Six Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
It’s been 50 years since man first ventured into the unknown, and the heavens are only now yielding their greatest secrets.  Season 6 of the pioneering series “The Universe” takes viewers further than ever, to the extreme edges of our solar system where chaos and catastrophe bring epic drama to the planets – including some of the most horrifying days on Earth.  Through stunning CGI, witness the birth pangs of the solar system, shocked into existence by a nearby supernova, and enduring over 700 million years of brutal bombardment by deadly asteroids; colossal cataclysms that shaped the planets and transformed their climates forever; and startling new scientific discoveries revealing a hellish history of continuous devastation on Earth. And travel to the system’s very fringes to explore the possibility that the Sun has an evil twin, a monstrous star known as Nemesis suspected of causing every mass extinction in Earth’s history. In signature cutting-edge style, The Universe: The Complete Season Six, available in both blu-ray and DVD, features astounding NASA footage and the opinions of leading astrophysicists to probe even more deeply into the billion-years-old story of the world beyond Earth.

Film (4 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

Like all of the previous seasons of “The Universe” this season has a lot of interesting things to show us that almost guarantees our destruction as a species in some manner or another.  Whether it’s from an undiscovered star that circles the sun and may be the cause of mass extinction several times over, or maybe it’s when we will be taken out by another asteroid or when all of the energy in the universe has finally dissipated.  This show always is appealing to fans of disaster movies and to science nerds since all of these cosmic disasters are on an epic scale that are hard to imagine.
Every season, I have some favorite episodes and this season, I especially enjoyed “Crash Landing on Mars”, “UFO: The Real Deal”, and “How Big, How Far, and How Fast,” because each of them offered a fun way to learn new things.  I’ve always wondered what would happen if a future Mars mission went badly and the manned capsule crashed on the planet of Mars.  This episode shows what difficulties the survivors would encounter and how they could survive on the inhospitable planet.  The show’s serious look at UFOs was also interesting as it included a look at how it could be possible and a scientific discussion at the technology that would be involved.  I also enjoyed how the show illustrated distances and speed in a non-technical way.
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 in The Universe: The Complete Season Six as originally described:
  • Catastrophes That Changed Planets - The planets of our solar system have experienced epic catastrophes throughout their long history, both raining down from outside and bubbling up from within. We’ll voyage back in time to investigate the violent events that profoundly shaped the planets, including earth itself. We’ll witness stunning revelations about what transformed Mars into a barren, hostile desert…The disaster that changed Venus from temperate to hellish…The impact that blew away Mercury’s mantle, turning it into a planetary core…A colossal disturbance that rearranged the orbits of the gas giants…Titanic impacts on Jupiter…And how a lost moon may finally explain Saturn’s rings.
  • Nemesis: The Sun’s Evil Twin - Could there be a monstrous, undiscovered star orbiting our own Sun? Could it be scattering killer comets throughout our Solar System like clockwork every 26 million years? New scientific surveys are probing the edges of our Solar System–a realm populated by giant worlds and mysterious planetoid–hunting for Nemesis, the Sun’s purported evil twin. We may be on the verge of discovering this ultimate death star, suspected of causing every mass extinction in Earth’s history. We employ everyday experiences to explain what Nemesis is and why it’s been so hard to find. Experts start a wildfire on a dry California hillside, race a NASCAR around an oval track, and juggle fire, all in the effort to present how Nemesis works, and why life on Earth may depend on its discovery.
  • How the Solar System Was Made - At 4.6 billion years old, the Solar System is our solid, secure home in the Universe. But how did it come to be? In this episode we trace the system’s birth from a thin cloud of dust and gas. Shocked by a nearby supernova, the pull of gravity and natural rotation spun it into a flat disc from which the Sun and planets coalesced. It all happened in the space of 700 million years, during which the planets jockeyed for position, dodging the brutal bombardment of deadly asteroids and setting into the neat, stable system that we now realize might be a rarity in the universe.
  • Crash Landing on Mars - What might happen if the first manned mission to Mars crashes hundreds of miles from the rocket that would take them back home? Could they survive the crash, and travel across the brutal Martian surface to their home ship? We’ll show what the astronauts would have to do to survive dust storms and space radiation, while extracting vital resources like water from the Martian soil itself. It’s a dramatic vision of the very near future, where survival can depend on pre-industrial technology and human ingenuity.
  • Worst Days on Planet Earth - Earth may seem like the most hospitable planet in the solar system. But look again. Startling new discoveries reveal the blue planet has been plagued by more chaos and destruction than scientists once imagined. Stand on the Earth billions of years ago as a primitive planet slams into it. Shiver as our entire globe is frozen over like a gigantic snowball. Feel the heat as mammoth volcanoes scorch the landscape and darken the sky. From a cosmic gamma ray burst frying away the ozone layer to an Everest-size asteroid slamming into the ocean, we’ll reveal new information about how these unparalleled events drove life to the brink of total extinction. Out of this continuous devastation, how has our planet–and life–got to where it is today? Are the worst days behind us–or lurking in the distant future?
  • God and the Universe - Since the dawn of civilization, humans have wondered who or what created the universe. Religion offers a spiritual answer, but do the latest discoveries in physics show evidence of a transcendent intelligence, or simply that the laws of physics by themselves could have led to the universe in which we live? This episode embarks on a mind-bending scientific search for God, asking physicists and theologians if the seemingly miraculous way the universe has been calibrated to support life is evidence of a creator…whether string theory will eventually be able to rule out the existence of God…why Stephen Hawking says the universe could have been created spontaneously…and how an advanced civilization in another universe could have conceivably created our own.
  • UFO: The Real Deal - Many argue that flying saucers and other extra-terrestrial space ships continuously visit the earth. If that were true, what kinds of technologies would such alien spacecraft require? And do eyewitness reports of UFO sightings jibe with modern theories of how interstellar travel might be possible? Authors, astronomers and theoretical physicists weigh in with the blueprints for inertia-canceling devices, nuclear-powered craft, antimatter propulsion systems and even warp drives. Based on Einstein’s theories and countless scientific studies, we’ll find out how these visitors might bridge the vast distances between the stars. And if they could survive such hazardous journeys, are they flesh and blood or intelligent machines?
  • How Big, How Far, How Fast - In this episode, our cast uses awesome analogies to bring the biggest objects, farthest distances and fastest speeds down to earth. To truly understand the scale of the cosmos, we jump behind the wheel of monster trucks, scale the Golden Gate bridge, and race across the desert in a rocket-powered car.
  • Our Place in the Milky Way - An exploration of Earth’s cosmic neighborhood. Looking beyond the borders of our solar system, what’s nearby in our galaxy? How do the other objects in our local area influence life on Earth? And, how did Earth’s place in the galaxy make it the perfect place for the development of advanced life?
  • Alien Sounds - What does the Universe sound like? From the sweep of a pulsar, to the deafening roar of our boiling sun this episode explores the undiscovered sound-scapes of the solar system, the galaxy, and the entire cosmos. And, is it true that in space nobody can hear you scream?!? The show’s scientists reveal that there are places in the Universe that prove this sci-fi statement wrong.
  • Deep Freeze - There really are ice worlds like Hoth from Star Wars. In this episode, we explore icy planets and moons, discover the role of cold in the Universe, and learn about the importance of ice to the development of habitable worlds.
  • Microscopic Universe - Within our immense universe lies a lesser-known world of tiny particles. From strange ghostly neutrinos that pass right through matter to mysterious objects with names like MACHOs and WIMPs.
  • Ride the Comet - Hitch a ride on the journey of a comet as it roars from the cold, dark outer reaches of the solar system to the fiery surface of the Sun.
  • When Space Changed History - Did calamities that originated in outer space influence religion and destroy civilizations? Surprising evidence points to catastrophic events that might have changed the course of human history.

Video (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)  

This 1080p (1.78:1) transfer is just as good as the show’s previous Blu-ray season releases.  The CGI in particular looks spectacular, with bright colors and some amazing detail.  Not only does it look realistic, but it’s dramatically done which makes the show look much more cinematic that a science show could be expected to do.  While all of the CGI sequences look fantastic, they make the live action interview parts look less impressive than they would normally be viewed.  That’s not to say that the live action parts look bad (as they don’t), but it’s hard to compete with the excellent CGI scenes.  There is some archival footage included that isn’t up to par with the rest of the presentation, but that is to be expected.  This is a very clean looking transfer with no blemishes or digital defects to be seen.

Audio (4 out of 5 stars)  

The Universe: The Complete Season Six’s DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo mix is very good and a very active one for a scientific show.  Every explosion, eruption, spaceship flyby, and more all make their presence known on this lossless mix.  I’m not sure why a full surround mix wasn’t created to spread out all of these various sound effects along with the music and dialogue, but for a 2.0 mix this does the job nicely.  The mix provides clear narration and dialogue that is intelligible even with all of the busy sound effects.  The music of the show also is reproduced here nicely.  While this should have been a 5.1 mix, this is still a very good 2.0 mix that does the job well.

Extras (0 out of 5 stars)  

There are no extras included on this set which is really going to affect the final score.

Summary (3 out of 5 stars)  

I’ve been a fan of “The Universe” for a long time and I’m happy to report that this season continues the pattern of excellence set by the previous seasons.  Science is still shown in a cinematic and interesting way that captures the imagination instead of boring the viewers with a dry lecture.  The CGI is excellent and makes it all come alive and it looks very realistic.  This Blu-ray set offers some fantastic audio and video quality, but it’s a shame that there isn’t any extras added.  Despite that shortcoming, I still highly recommend this series!
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