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THE UNIVERSE: SEASON ONE
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Narrator:  Erik Thompson
Director:  Douglas J. Cohen
Audio:  Dolby Digital Stereo
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
Studio:  A&E
Features:  “Beyond the Big Bang”
Length:  705 Minutes
Release Date:  November 18, 2008

Shows ***

The Universe…as my old pal Norman Kelsey used to say, you can’t have everything…where would you put it?

But seriously, this impressive series from A&E, now in it’s second year, attempts the task of taking everything and dissecting it into small, easy-to-digest and informative bites.  There’s a lot going on out there, and not all of it is good.

In fact, for me, one of the entertaining aspects of Season One is how over-the-top everything is taken.  Were you aware of how easy it would be for our world to be obliterated in the blink of an eye?  I didn’t.  But yes, while there are killer asteroids and solar expansion and other such disasters to think about, there is also a kind of cosmic flash that happens when a star is squeezed out of existence.  If one ever aims directly at us, it’s an instant adios to our good old terra firma.

But everything is taken to the extreme in The Universe.  You wouldn’t expect it to go small, would you?  Jupiter is described as a violent, raging world, and our own sun is nuclear fusion gone crazy.  Even the moon, which you would think was relatively harmless, gets the dire introduction:  IT’S…SO…CLOSE!  You can’t help but grin.

All thirteen episodes are here, and they are confined mostly to our own solar system, with a few looks at alien galaxies, the most dangerous places you could go (if you could even get there), and the possibilities of life elsewhere.  Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, is of particular interest.  It’s a frozen world, but it’s believed that oceans exist beneath the ice.  If we could chip through and do a little ice fishing, who knows what we might find?  It’s certainly fascinating to think about, and there are plans even as I write this to send a probe there to do just that.  Such a discovery, if it exists, would certainly change a lot of thinking.

Mars, of course, is closer and more easily accessible, and has stirred our imagination for countless years.  The concept of one day sending a man there, and maybe even eventually colonizing our red neighbor, is nothing new, but we may be inching closer to such a reality with each passing day.

The footage, some of which is actual space shots, some of which is CGI, shows us the countless wonders off of the Earth, and if Planet Earth showed us the wonders we never stopped to contemplate on our own planet…well, as the saying goes, we ain’t seen nothing yet.

The series is enjoyable and entertaining, and takes what could have come across as monotonous science lessons and turns them into rather stimulating presentations, always reminding us that death is around every corner.  Man, I can think of a few new horror movies that should be greenlit just based on the information contained here!  I mean, did you even know that every year, the moon's orbit gets a little further away from us?  Gees, that can't be good...

And learning is always most effective when it’s fun and enjoyable for the student.  I wouldn’t lose sleep over cosmic flashes…what the hell can we do about it, anyway?  But I still walked away feeling like I knew a little something more about the great expanse that surrounds us, and was even reminded of what it was like when I was a kid, watching the first moon landings and dreaming of the endless possibilities of space.  The Universe makes you feel like anything is possible, and with focus, dedication and work, we can go anywhere and do anything!

…unless we burn up or vanish in some freak cosmic hiccup.  That would, of course, be a bitch.

Video ***1/2

I’d like to personally welcome A&E to the Blu-ray family, and congratulate them on a job well done.  Between them and their sister History Channel, I think there may be plenty on the horizon for high definition fans to look forward to.  The Universe is beautifully presented…the many space shots look spectacular.  Of course, some bits look better than others, thanks to age and source materials, but really, that’s only a scholarly complaint.  I think overall, with the crispness, detail and rich colors, this is as close as many of us may get to the nether regions of space.

Audio ***

The stereo television audio is included, and works fine, with some nice dynamic range here and there to remind us how dangerous the universe can be.  The narration and interviews come across cleanly, but the sound effects give it that extra kick here and there.

Features **

On the last disc is the bonus documentary “Beyond the Big Bang”.

Summary:

The Universe…it’s home sweet home, after all.  Who knows what all is out there?  You can’t get it all from a television program.  But A&E has done a solid job with this series, breaking everything down into basic and understandable forms, and this Blu-ray offering looks quite terrific to boot!

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