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HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: The Universe: The Complete Fourth Season (1 Viewer)

Neil Middlemiss

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The Universe
The Complete Fourth Season
 
Studio: History Channel
Year: 2009
US Rating: NR
Film Length: 9hrs, 24 Mins
Video: 1080P High Definition 16X9 - 1.78:1
Audio: PCM 2.0 (Uncompressed) Audio
Subtitles: English
 
Release Date: February 23, 2009
Review Date: February 15, 2010
 
“In the beginning there was darkness, and then – Bang – giving birth to an endless expanding existence of time, space, and matter. Everyday new discoveries are unlocking the mysterious the mind-blowing, the deadly secrets of a place we call – the Universe. "
 
The Show: 4 out of 5
 
There’s a wannabe astrophysicist inside me wanting to get out. If I was just a little smarter, and demonstrated a penchant for remembering the complex mathematics that are ingrained requirements of that fascinating scientific field, I would be applying to be apprentice to Dr. Neil DeGrasse Dyson with disturbing frequency. But alas, that is not the path meant for me, and so shows like The History Channels The Universe serve up delicious, lamens-term loaded eye and brain candy that dance on the precipice of the meaty mechanics that churn at the center of understanding the rich and riveting realities of the realm of everything around our little blue planet.
 
Confidently narrated by Erik Thomas, the approach of The Universe is to explore the fantastic side of science, and explore the giddy, tantalizing spheres of possibility in the quest to understand the universe around us. And the balance between ideas grounded in plausible scientific hypothesis, and the outright off-the-wall, upper end of possibilities spectrum (more commonly the realm of science-fiction than science fact) is reasonably well maintained.  
 
For legitimate students in the study of galaxies, supernovae, gamma ray bursts (GRB), particle physics, the unified theory of relativity, and countless other elements that make up the canvass of study for everything not held hostage by Earth’s gravity, The Universe will seem too pulpy to be taken seriously. But there are incredibly complex theories and scientific questions under investigation through the course of this season’s 12 episodes (and the three seasons before this). Take the first episode of the season, Death Stars. The mere name conjures a snicker of delight in sci-fi fanboys, and the narrator happily makes mention of the Star Wars ultimate weapon, but almost surreptitiously, information is unloaded on to the viewer on the nature of gamma ray bursts (truly a deadly phenomena), how they are created, where the nearest likely source to threaten our planet lies, and how the creation and explosion of stars throughout time have distributed heavier elements about the universe making such explosive forces (which create the GRB in the first place) less common than earlier in the history of everything we know.
 
The Universe has at its disposal a talented team of computer animators bringing to life in vivid detail, and with exciting visuals, many of the concepts explored in each episode. In the episode the covers 10 ways in which the earth could be destroyed, the CGI artists clearly have had fun smashing, disintegrating, and cracking apart our fair blue planet. It is this sense of fun and wonder that makes this show such a pleasure to watch. During the episode pitting science-fiction against science-fact, Star Trek writer and science advisor, Andre Bormanis appears to discuss transporter technology, as does Battlestar Galactica’s science advisor, Kevin Grazier. Calling upon hidden heroes of the sci-fi realm is fun fodder for the show. And all this exciting scientific possibility, mixed with excellent CGI work, is punctuated with legitimacy by the appearance and postulations of noted scientists, astrophysicists, and other assorted ‘nerds’, such as Alex Filippenko of the University of California, Berkeley, and Pamela L. Gay, of Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville.  A cynic might call The Universe ‘dumbed-down’ science, but as a person with a greedy love of all things related to the formation and continued mystery of the universe, and a persistent desire to read all things written by Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Stephen Hawkin, or Brian Greene (and his excellent The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory), I find The Universe to be as endlessly entertaining.
 
 
Episode 1: Death Stars
Episode 2: The Day the Moon Was Gone
Episode 3: It Fell From Space
Episode 4: Biggest Blasts
Episode 5: The Hunt for Ringed Planets
Episode 6: 10 Ways to Destroy Earth
Episode 7: The Search for Cosmic Clusters
Episode 8: Space Wars
Episode 9: Liquid Universe
Episode 10: Pulsars & Quasars
Episode 11: Science Fiction, Science Fact
Episode 12: Extreme Energy
 
 
The Video: 4 out of 5
 
The complete fourth season of The Universe looks good on blu-ray. The computer generated graphics are incredibly sharp, super-clean, fluid, and high-quality rendered. The filmed sequences, including the interviews with guests and regular experts, and the analogous demonstrations filmed, look good here. Only the occasional use of stock footage stands out as being of poorer quality (as you can expect from stock footage). The Universe is a bright show, with vibrant yellows, blues, reds, and greens used in the graphics really showing off the look of this show.
  
 
The Sound: 2.5 out of 5
 
Curiously, and disappointingly, this three-disc blu-ray set presents the audio of the show in an underwhelming PCM 2.0 uncompressed audio. When broadcast on History HD, the explosions, scenes of destruction, and even the rumble of the music provide a solid audio accompaniment to the series, but on blu, there is no depth of dimension. Erik Thompson’s narration, and the voices of those interviewed, can be heard out of the front speakers (rather than the center channel), and the lack of activity in the surrounds, while images of the universe zip by, and rogue black holes devour matter and light, is noticeable and disappointing. The audio is extremely crisp – but as a partner to the fine image, fails to deliver what is required.
 
 
The Extras: 2 out of 5
 
Presented in 4X3, and in standard definition, these unaired segments from the show cover a recovered meteorite from the Red Planet (dislodged by Mars being impacted itself by an object), and the origin and orbits of comets
 
Meteors: Fire in the Sky (9:32)
 
Comets: Prophets of Doom (3:17)
  
 
Final Thoughts
 
I am an unabashed fan of this show. The flirting with concepts that astonish and fascinate is alluring, and the fun of the show is consistent. For every diversion into how the Earth could end up fried, smashed, or imploded, is a discussion or explanation of the Higgs-Boson particle, miniature black holes, quasars, quantum entanglement, and other assorted elements of a universe far vaster and varied than any human imagination could possibly hope to match.
 
 
Overall 4 out of 5
Neil Middlemiss
Kernersville, NC
 

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