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Featured TV on DVD Review: The Universe: Season Five

January 10th, 2011

The Universe: Season Five - DVD or Blu-ray

The Universe is one of The History Channel's best shows, even if it is not really about history, at least not in the usual sense. It is very educational, dealing with a wide variety of subject during its five-year run. But now that it has come to an end, did it go out with a bang, or did the series just sort of run out of steam?

  1. 7 Wonders of the Solar System
    We take a tour of our solar system and look at seven of the most amazing places out there, from the ice geysers of Enceladus, to the asteroid belt, to the Sun, and more.
    A good episode to start the new season, as there a number of interesting topics to get through. However, by the same token, none of the subjects can be dealt with in any depth. Also, the number one choice is very obvious and anti-climatic at the same time.
  2. Mars: The New Evidence
    Is there life on Mars? That's one of the most important questions in science at the moment, and it is a question that has seen new evidence change the consensus opinion a number of times over the past few decades.
    A very good episode, that not only looks at our more recent understanding of Mars, but also how our understanding of Mars has changed with new discoveries, as well as what we need to do to answer the question.
  3. Magnetic Storm
    What would happen to the Earth if there were a major magnetic eruption on the Sun?
    Imagine this episode is an analogy. Now imagine my review is another analogy. Now imagine the interaction between those analogies is analogous to another analogy. I know, analogies help people understand complex ideas, or things that are just so large that we never encounter anything as vast in our day-to-day life. However, there are a few too many analogies in this episode. Also, the episode tries far too hard to draw in viewers by scaring them about something that has almost no chance of effecting them. And if it does happen, the average person would have no control over the events.
  4. Time Travel
    Is time travel possible within our understanding of the universe? If so, how close are we to being able to travel either into the past, or far into the future? And if we could travel in time, what would happen?
    On a side note, I've been signed up to Ipsos polls. After you take a poll there's a game you play for chances to win prizes in a draw. You are presented with a question and you guess what percent said yes. One of the recent questions I got was, "Have you ever traveled in time." 8% said yes. Hopefully those people are trolling, otherwise there are a lot of crazy people around. Anyhoo, this is obviously one of the most theoretical episodes on this DVD, but it is also one of the best, as it is very fascinating.
  5. Secrets of the Space Probes
    No, this has nothing to do with aliens and that kind of probing. This episode is about space probes humans have launched into space to look into the deepest reaches of our solar system, and beyond.
    Since there are so many different types of probes searching for so many different types of discoveries, and there have been so many advances in recent years, this episode has a lot of ground to cover. Of course, that's what makes it so interesting.
  6. Asteroid Attack
    Asteroids are the sharks of space. Just like every year there's a "Shark Week", every show like this has to deal with asteroids practically every season.
    I've seen far too many episodes about asteroids to learn much new from this one.
  7. Total Eclipse
    Most people know what a total eclipse of the Sun is, when the Moon passes directly between the Sun and the Earth. However, this episode also talks about the history of our understanding of these events, and what we learn during such events.
    Any scientific program that mentions the Mayan calendar loses points. At its best, it's pandering. At its worst, it is psuedo-scientific crap. Otherwise, it's a good episode, if a little apocalyptic.
  8. Dark Future of the Sun
    So how is our Sun going to die? And how will that effect the Earth. I'm going to say negatively. The Sun dying will negatively effect the Earth.
    On the one hand, there's a lot of information here about the lifecycle of a main sequence star life our Sun. On the other hand, this episode is a little apocalyptic and silly. They talk about what civilizations on Earth will have to do so survive a billion years from now. I don't think that's going to be an issue.

The Extras

There are no extras on the two-disc Blu-ray. Also, the technical presentation is rather mixed, as the source for the video vary from present day high definition video and digitally animated simulations on one end, to archival news footage on the other. Likewise, the sound is clear, but unchallenging. On the other hand, the Blu-ray only costs 25% more than the DVD, which is an acceptable price.

The Verdict

Occasionally apocalyptic, as when talking about massive coronal ejections. Sometime silly. ('I'm sure glad the Sun won't go supernova.' Why? What possible difference could it make?) But for the most part, The Universe remained an excellent educational program right to the end of its fifth and final season. The price-per-minute is a little higher than the previous seasons, as there were only eight episodes instead of the usual 12 or more, but the DVD and the Blu-ray are still worth picking up.

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