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Blu-ray Review: 'Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey'

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The Show:

In 1980, noted scientist Carl Sagan brought us the fascinating television series “Cosmos,” acting as a kind of ambassador of science as he explored all aspects of the universe. Now, with the help of executive producers such as Ann Druyan (Sagan’s widow), Seth MacFarlane (of “Family Guy” fame), and Brannon Braga (who worked on several “Star Trek” series), the show has been re-launched for a new generation of eager young minds. This time around, we have astrophysicist Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson as our host, taking us on a cosmic voyage that explores everything from life on Earth to the multitude of astronomic phenomena contained in our universe. However, the show doesn’t stop there. It also explores how various scientists discovered scientific truths throughout the centuries, giving us detailed backgrounds of some of history’s brightest thinkers such as Sir Isaac Newton, Edmond Halley, Michael Faraday, and many more. Over the course of 13 episodes, we come to know our place in the cosmos, and just how small a piece of it we truly are.

When Dr. Sagan hosted the original program back in 1980, he was lauded as being the kind of scientist that presented information in an easy to digest manner by doing so in a straightforward fashion and never in a sense that he was talking down to someone. Because of this, viewers were able to engage in the material and learn a lot about things that scientists hadn’t necessarily been open to teaching to the masses before. For this new series, it seems doubtful that they could have chosen a better host than Dr. Tyson, who uses the same strategy of presenting this complex information in a straightforward and non-haughty manner, and it certainly helps in no small part that he shows just as much fascinating with the material as Dr. Sagan did all those years ago.

By using these same methods, “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” ends up being a fascinating journey through the universe and through our very own planet. Each episode tends to focus on a main topic, such as light, magnets, lead, and gravity, delving into each by exploring the scientist(s) most known for investigating that topic. Here’s where their approach is particularly interesting. Instead of doing these with live actors, they have chosen to do them through animation, which you might think would turn out as something cheesy or something difficult to take seriously, but in fact it’s quite the opposite. These animated sections only help to continue the tradition of taking in the information in an easy to digest manner. Besides, there’s a very good chance that if they had done it with live actors, it could have turned out rather silly, so much of the audience might have simply laughed it off instead of absorbing the knowledge presented.

Other highlights of the series include the astounding visuals, which light up the screen with outstanding visual effects and gorgeous camera work from renowned cinematographer Bill Pope (“The Matrix” trilogy). Back in 1980, Dr. Sagan had to use whatever means he could to convey the information, but in today’s age, we have come a long way technologically, something the showrunners take full advantage of as they take us from the smallest particles of life on Earth to the boundaries of the known universe. As with the shows other elements, being able to see exactly what Dr. Tyson is talking about through extensive visual effects only helps to make the information easier to comprehend, all of which comes with the added bonus of it simply being an amazing feast for the eyes.

The very few complaints I have include how certain episodes seemed a bit scattershot as they jumped from topic to topic. One episode had Dr. Tyson discussing life within a dewdrop, including plant mechanics and photosynthesis. A few minutes later, he was discussing the makeup of the sun and telling us all about the neutrinos it sends out, along with the attempts to capture them. To make it even more of a grab bag of an episode, he also talks about how smell is connected to memory. You may be left wondering how you got from point A to point B, but luckily it doesn’t make the topics any less fascinating. The other complaint involves there being an episode or two that just weren’t as good as the rest. Supernovas may be a cool astronomical phenomenon, but even hearing Dr. Tyson discuss them for roughly 40 minutes begins to test one’s patience.

However, these are rather small and trivial complaints in comparison to what has been achieved with this series. Everyone involved has helped keep Dr. Sagan’s passion for science alive by passing it on to the next generation in a form that shows them just how grand and exciting it can be. Whether you’re a fan of science or not, “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” will keep you enthralled with its wondrous journey through time and space while filling your mind with the knowledge of who we are, where we came from, and just how much further we have to go.

Video/Audio:

“Cosmos: A Spacetime Journey” comes to Blu-ray in a 1.78:1, 1080p High Definition transfer that truly lets the beauty of the series come to life. Every frame of live-action, animation, and special effects are vividly bright and perfectly sharp. Likewise, the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio has been given outstanding treatment, giving you an amazing feast for the senses in a quality that could not possibly have been any better.

Special Features:

Audio Commentary on Premiere Episode: A commentary track with the executive producers that unfortunately doesn’t amount to much more than them being humbled at being a part of the show and commenting on how great it looks.

Celebrating Carl Sagan: A Selection from the Library of Congress Dedication: This featurette features speeches made my Seth MacFarlane, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Ann Druyan at the Carl Sagan dedication. Their speeches are touching to listen to, so it’s worth a look.

Cosmos at Comic-Con: A Q&A at Comic-Con 2013, featuring Tyson, Druyan, and Brannon Braga. It’s rather informative and definitely worth watching.

Cosmos: The Voyage Continues: A 40-minute behind the scenes look at the making of the show. This is another featurette that’s rather interesting and informative, making it another one that you should check out.

Interactive Cosmic Calendar: An interactive look at the history of the universe as divided up in the show’s cosmic calendar. If this is an area you have interest in, you may want to give it a look.

Conclusion:

Science has rarely been as thrilling as it is presented in “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.” With Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson as your host, you are treated to a phenomenal journey through history and the remarkable vastness of space that will have you gripped with awe-inspiring facts about life, the world we inhabit, and our place in the cosmos. Just as Dr. Sagan’s original program did in 1980, this re-launch of the series will no doubt inspire a whole new generation of youngsters to follow in the footsteps of the great minds that came before them. Even with all of the amazing facts presented in this series, Dr. Tyson still makes a point of stating that we don’t have all the answers. However, all the information presented here certainly ends up being one incredible start.

Score: 4/5

Now available on Blu-ray and DVD.

Recent Blu-ray/DVD releases: House of Cards: Season Two, The Lego Movie, Ernest & Celestine, 13 Sins, Joe, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Tim's Vermeer, Alan Partridge, RoboCop (2014), Alexander: The Ultimate Cut, Ravenous, Son of God, The Rodgers & Hammerstein Collection, Stalingrad, The Monuments Men, Pompeii, 3 Days to Kill, Grand Piano, Her, Orange is the New Black: Season One, I, Frankenstein, Final Exam, Evilspeak

Now playing in theaters: How to Train Your Dragon 2, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Follow me on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic.

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