[Review] - Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey

Courtesy of Cosmos Studios
The original Cosmos: A Personal Voyage had a simultaneously simple and complex intent: educate the public on the immensity and complexity of the universe, and ignite a interest in science that had waned somewhat from the headier days of the space race. Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey had a similarly difficult challenge facing them: reignite that interest in science, and combat a growing duel-nature culture where intellect and science are vilified.

The success or failure of Carl Sagan's original programme can be measured, with the benefit of 24 years hindsight. It introduced a willing audience to concepts and terminology that entered the public consciousness. While not everyone understands exactly what they are or how they work, there are few that wouldn't recognize the word "supernova." And while it didn't turn the West into a science-mad super culture, it inspired enough minds at the right moment, to spur a new generation of professional discoverers. Will the refresher course be as success? Only time will tell. But between Neil deGrasse Tyson's impassioned narration, and the majesty of the visual, it certainly packs enough punch to do so.

Come with me...


This return to the Cosmos has two things going for it more than any other: Tyson, and the look. And I'll start with the latter. This series looked gorgeous. Our technology has advanced to the point where we can reproduce the grandeur, the scale and the beauty of what the universe has to offer. And it actually becomes part of the problem. This series does take an overly romantic view of things more often than not. It's not necessarily a bad thing. But romanticizing science can result in glossing over things. The beauty of science is it's exactness. Spend too much time being dazzled by the lights, you ignore the bulb, which is where the magic is happening.

Occasionally, the show would tilt towards audience expectation, like the Ship Of The Imagination weaving through an asteroid field densely packed. But, the series is also exceptionally good at catching it's own shortcomings. Like when it specifically states that the images the public wonders over the the Hubble and the like are usually combined images from multiple frequencies. Then, the series would cycle through the various frequencies, showing the viewer would things would look like through a slightly different lens.

But it does look amazing. While Sagan was operating at the cusp of his technology, this version uses technology that has been well honed. So while Sagan's had an earnest, clinical, genuine feel, this series has a very cinematic, grand, and fantastical element to it. There is literally nothing that the series couldn't do or reproduce using a liberal application of digital technology. And used that liberal application to guide the viewer through some very challenging topics.

Everything that Sagan did, the shows continues to excel at, but slightly upgraded. Science has moved on in some respects, so it accounts for newer, or better, data. The Cosmic Calendar, the idea of boiling the entire timeline of the universe into a single calendar year, becomes an interactive and immersive construct. Visualizing magnetic fields, neutrinos and cosmic rays becomes easier when the series can "show them" to the audience. It also had considerable fun with the idea of the Ship of The Imagination, able to blend reality and conception. My favourite moment of the series was the depiction of the touch down of the pathfinder in 1997, which awakens on the Martian surface, turns it's camera to observe the alien landscape, and sees Tyson approaching through the dust.

Where this series as on less stable ground was with the animated segments. It was a creative way to explore the lives of ancient and recent scientists. But it was in stark contrast to the rest of the very streamlined series, and took several episodes to get used to. It was better implemented when used occasionally and briefly, though some later episodes were told almost entirely in the animation, as the entire life story of particular scientists took the focus. I won't begrudge a biography of Michael Faraday, but some episodes struggled to find a balance between elements.

The other thing the series had going for it was Tyson, Face of Space 2.0. Few others would be able to speak so lyrically and passionately about science than Tyson. His voice is a calm constant, gently guiding us through a deepening well of ideas. Even when he is wandering through the halls of extinction, my favourite of the series' gimmicks, he is a welcome guide. Of course, he is outmatched by Sagan himself, so the series wisely reaches through the gulf of time and brings the voice of the originator back through. It weight's the scales heavily in their favour to have both Sagan and Tyson enticing us with their knowledge, especially in the closing minutes of the series, when the entirety of the Pale Blue Dot speech is played, followed up by Tyson's own comments on the continuing journey of discover.

The series is occasionally repetitive between episodes, but all the better to hammer a notion home. It is designed for the lay person, for those coming in cold to fact and notion. To those of us in the know, there is much to be surprised about, but just as much that is old news. As such, it is hard for me to judge it's effectiveness in delivering a message to a unknowing audience. I found all 13 episodes engaging and visually thrilling, and I would absolutely use it as an educational tool. But how that translates into fresh engagment, I lack the ability to tell.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.

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