More than three decades after the debut of 'Cosmos: A Personal Voyage,' Carl Sagan's stunning and iconic exploration of the universe as revealed by science, MacFarlane has teamed with Sagan's original creative collaborators -- writer/executive producer Druyan and co-writer, astronomer Steven Soter -- to conceive this 13-part series, which serves as a successor to the Emmy and Peabody Award-winning original series. As with the legendary original series, the new 'Cosmos' is the saga of how we discovered the laws of nature and found our coordinates in space and time. The series brings to life never-before-told stories of the heroic quest for knowledge, transporting viewers to new worlds and across the universe for a vision of the cosmos on both the grandest and smallest scales.
Besides providing free teaching material to weary high school science teachers across the country, 'Cosmos' is an exhaustive exploration of science, its meaning, its adversities, its rhetoric, and ultimately its evolving truth. Astro physicist and host Neil deGrasse Tyson is a showman. He's able to take complex science, both theories and fact, and deliver it in doses of information for the layman, which are neither dumbed down nor insulting. He doesn't pull any punches either. The show encountered extreme controversy from religious areas of society when it took many questions about religion and God head on, with scientific explanations. Not to discriminate, the show also pointed out many times when the scientific community stifled its own growth by believing in outdated information, and eschewing newly gathered research. What it comes down to is that 'Cosmos' is a journey for truth, through scientific endeavors, study, and research. Yet, with all its enlightening information, 'Cosmos' 13 episodes scarcely scratch the surface of our knowledge.
Tyson begins this saga about space and time with a concept that will carry throughout the series: The Cosmic Calendar. In order for us to truly comprehend the age of the universe, the Cosmic Calendar condenses all of time and universal creation into one calendar month. Each day equals roughly 38 million years, so it's a sobering thought to think that according to the Cosmic Calendar humans and the dinosaur extinction are only separated by a day or so. This informative visualization of extrapolated scientific data is only one of many the show provides, but over its course it becomes an iconic image. Referred to again, and again, it's a constant reminder of the immense age of the universe, and how young we as a species really are.
Perhaps the show's most chuckle-worthy aspect is the ship that Tyson flies around in, visiting distant galaxies, and even shrinking down in order to view atoms at their most basic molecular levels. Though after the first few episodes, it doesn't matter if the ship concept is a little corny. It becomes an endearing addition. Using the show's outstanding special effects to blend itself into its CGI surroundings. Soon it becomes a pseudo-interactive way to explore places we're simply unable to visit on our own.
While 'Cosmos' takes its shots at religion, it takes just as many shots at science itself. We hear story after story about how previously unknown scientists like Michael Faraday and Clair Patterson, were shunned by their scientific brethren for bringing hypotheses and research to light, which contradicted the popular scientific sentiments of the day. They had to fight to be heard above the noise and rhetoric of their day. Oftentimes only being truly acknowledged after their deaths.
I've never been this wrapped up in a scientific TV series. The cinematic production values coupled with Tyson's innate showmanship, and a way of presenting scientific knowledge that doesn't make the viewer feel stupid, created a show that was equal parts addicting and educational. The way it tackles controversial subjects head-on, like Climate Change, is admirable. The evidence produced, and the way it's presented, provides compelling arguments. If anything, the show instills the scientific method in the general populace with example after example.
The real key takeaway from 'Cosmos' is that we should always be questioning, searching for answers that haven't been found yet. That's how progress is made. Each and every individual story we hear on 'Cosmos,' each scientist they profile, gives us insight into how science has progressed throughout our history. How instead of trying to find evidence to support a predetermined conclusion, brave scientists of the past instead gathered evidence for a hypothesis and followed the observable clues to reach well-founded conclusions. Even if those clues took them down new, seemingly dangerous avenues of exploration.
Honestly, after all that. I can sum up 'Cosmos' in one word that scientists would never use to accurately describe a natural phenomenon. It's simply magical.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Cosmos' is packaged with four 50GB Blu-rays. Each disc has its own hub inside a slightly oversized keepcase. Inside the front cover is an episode list with episode names, special features, and which discs they're located on. The cardboard slipcover actually contains a worthwhile extra tidbit. The front folds out revealing a glossy image of the Cosmic Calendar. The foldout is held shut by a small Velcro circle. The case indicates that this a Region A release.
One of the show's many strengths lies in its marvelous visuals. Perhaps, a couple decades down the road, we'll look back and marvel at how antiquated this CG really was – like we do with the Carl Sagan original. For right now, however, the effects here are brilliantly conceived, and stunningly presented. Being on Blu-ray, instead of being broadcast over limited cable bandwidth, 'Cosmos' really shines.
The 1080p presentation is a wash of color and clarity. All of the show's special effects come off polished, without a hint of artifacting or banding. The animated sequences are unusual, yes, but clearly presented. There isn't any detail loss as far as those segments are concerned.
Detail is marvelous throughout. Close-up shots of Tyson, wildlife, and the computer-generated cosmos provide ample detail for marveling. The blackness of space is entirely dark. Contrast is perfect. There isn't a thing I find wrong with the way Fox has put this presentation together. As far as TV shows on Blu-ray go, this is one of the best looking ones out there.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix mirrors its video counterpart. It's a totally immersive experience. Much more so than the show's original broadcast. What really stands out is the clarity of the ambient sound. Tyson visits places all over the globe as he relates his stories. Each of these places is populated with people, wildlife, and natural elements. All of these sounds give the show a very natural audio field.
Simulated explosions, like that of the Big Bang, offer some extreme low frequency rumblings. Tyson's voice is the only real quibble, but it's more to do with the nature of the show, and not really with mix itself. At times Tyson's voice audibly changes volume, rather abruptly. I assume these instances happen because his voice needed to be rerecorded after the filming had taken place.
That said, most of Tyson's narration is as clear as one would desire. Directionality is spot on as the ship streaks across it. Pans work smoothly. It's everything you could ask for, and maybe a tiny bit more.
'Cosmos' ended too soon. I kept wanting more, and more. It's a powerful show that enlightens its viewers. It shows those who may not be scientifically inclined why they should care. It teaches us scientific dummies (this guy) how science affects us on a daily basis and why it's important to know the history of it. The audio and video are near perfection. The special features are fairly robust. 'Cosmos' is very highly recommended.