You don't have to be a science nerd to think 'Nova: Earth from Space' is really cool, but I'm sure it would help. The title is a little ambiguous though. When I found out that the Nova special was two hours long, I briefly wondered how many shots can they show of Earth from outer space before this gets dull? Thankfully, it doesn't take very long for the program to shine a light on its true purpose.
Showing stunning images of Earth from thousands of miles up isn't the only reason 'Earth from Space' exists, although it is part of it. The real meat of the two-hour long science exploration is to uncover the hidden relationships of the world's climate and the natural forces constantly at war with one another. It's an in-depth look at how our planet's natural world ebbs and flows. How it's constantly moving, creating, and destroying.
'Earth from Space' doesn't just throw out observations willy-nilly. It's gathered its information from numerous satellites in orbit which look down on the Earth and measure everything from ocean temperature to global wind patterns. The information beamed down from dozens of specialized NASA satellites provides a previously unseen view of our world and how different elements and forces interact with one another, creating the world we live in today.
Character actor Jay O. Sanders ('JFK') narrates this scientific journey. The narration is pretty straight forward. It doesn't try too hard, and steers away from romanticizing the interactions of nature that we're seeing. Instead he plainly explains what's going on. For example, the program provides clear knowledge about a huge underwater waterfall (yeah, I didn't get it either until it was explained) of extremely dense, salty water. The narration is clear that not everything is known about this briny water, and where it goes, but it does indeed affect the natural currents of the ocean.
I found the segment on hurricanes forming to be absolutely fascinating. We see a satellite that uses microwave signals to look inside of a hurricane. It can see the amount of hot water vapor traveling up through the storm, which is always a cause for concern. Once this phenomenon happened with Hurricane Katrina it quickly turned from a category three storm to a category five monster. The computer-generated animations, showing water vapor evaporating from the top of the ocean feel a little dated, but the entire sequence successfully teaches hurricane formation to those of us that may not be scientifically inclined.
Two hours did begin to feel a bit long, however. It felt, at times, that the information being presented became somewhat redundant. That said, most of the scientific data and the images that have been compiled from it are striking. The scientific conclusions drawn from the data is even more awe-inspiring. Nova knows exactly how to make something like this exciting.
Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This PBS release comes on a single 25GB Blu-ray Disc, which is packaged in a standard keepcase, and is labeled with a Region A compatibility.
The visuals here range from the absolutely stunning to the somewhat troubled. 'Earth from Space,' like many nature-centric documentaries, uses a variety of sources varying in quality. Which means that this program is somewhat of a mishmash.
'Earth from Space' is presented in 1080i. Many of the recreated visuals from space look really well done. They lack noise and compression issues. Colors stand out nicely against solid black backgrounds, which highlights the images on screen. We don't spend all our time looking down from space. We get shots of people, animals, and underwater creatures. These are usually the best looking shots. Faces show large amounts of detail during close ups. Fur on animals has nice individual resolution.
The show uses computer animated simulations to show what the satellites look like while orbiting the earth. These animations vary greatly. Some of them exhibit banding and blocking, while others look rather clear by comparison. Banding is regularly seen throughout the presentation. What one should take away from this is that with any documentary you'll likely be dealing with a large range of source footage. Some of it transfers well to the HD spectrum and some of it doesn't.
'Earth from Space' has been provided a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo track. This is exactly what this kind of documentary calls for. It doesn't have any need for surround sound. Sanders' voice is clear and has a nice bit of low-end heft to it, he's a born narrator. The narration is clear and always intelligible.
Panning effects are pretty smooth. As satellites zoom from one edge of the screen to the other, their sound moves from one channel across to the next. The stereo mix has decent directionality. A surprising amount of LFE is provided for the show's intense soundtrack. There's no reason to hope or expect anything more than what's here.
There are no special features included.
For the most part I was mesmerized by the visualization of the scientific data. Hearing what scientific conclusions were drawn from the visual data was even more mind-boggling. There seems to be an almost infinite number of things happening in nature at any given time and they're all connected somehow. If you're into nature, or documentaries, or simply like to learn about the world around you I'd wholeheartedly recommend giving 'Earth from Space' a try. It's definitely worth a look.