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DVD Review - The Universe (Seasons 1-4) - The History Channel
It's hard to ignore the attractiveness of the Universe as a topic for a documentary series - and it's certainly hard to find a bigger one. In this History Channel box set you will certainly get your money's worth of vistas of the universe, running for about 9 hours in total, the 12 programmes take us on a tour of some of the most obvious, but still most interesting features out there.
Starting with the Sun, the series works out through the solar system (the Moon gets its own show on the way), then throws in other galaxies, the life and death of a star, the threats that the Earth faces from outer space and the dangerous places out there in the universe.
On the whole the programmes are enjoyable with a good mix of flashy graphics and awestruck voiceover and talking heads, mostly astronomers and cosmologists. To the British taste, the voiceover might be just a bit too "gee whiz, wow," and there is a tendency to come up with the occasional platitude, but if you can't get awe inspired when talking about the universe, when can you?
I was a touch disappointed by some of the graphics, which didn't seem quite up to the quality of the computer graphics we've come to expect as normal these days. Most are great, but some were just a bit too obviously computer generated.
Perhaps the biggest selling point is that this series is great value for money - at the time this review was written you can get the whole nine hours for under £8 on DVD (it's quite a lot more on Blu-Ray, though you do get the full impact of the better graphics). If you've read a lot about astronomy, you aren't going to learn much that's new, but the beginner will get a lot out of this, and anyone with wider experience will have the opportunity to see familiar concepts put across in a dramatic fashion.
We've now had a chance to have a look at Season 4 as well. Inevitably when you get to this stage in a non-fiction series' development they have picked off a lot of the low-lying fruit and you are left with a need to slightly stretch the format. In this case, they have resorted for quite a few of the programmes being based on dramatic scenarios, including Death Stars, the Day the Moon was Gone, It fell from Space, Biggest Blasts, 10 Ways to Destroy the Earth and Space Wars. If I'm honest I personally rather more enjoyed some of the less 'Whoa, let's have a big explosion' type episodes, such as Hunt for Ringed Planets, Pulsars & Quasars and The Search for Cosmic Clusters. There was also the near obligatory look at the borderline between fact and science fiction.
Overall, though, the series has managed to keep up the quality and this is another excellent nine hours of programming that will build if you for all four into a very impressive library of DVDs or Blu-Rays.
Season 2 DVD
Season 3 DVD Blu-Ray
Seasons 1-3 DVDs
Seasons 1-4 set Blu-Ray (US is 1-3)
Season 4 DVD Blu-Ray
Reviewed by Brian Clegg
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Last update 05 June 2007