This impressive A&E Blu-ray release combines two of the network’s better series into one high-definition release. You get the 13-episode first season of How The Earth Was Made and the first season of Universe. Together the episodes explore the most inner depths of planet Earth and the farthest reaches of our own Solar System. It’s all in high- definition Blu-ray. It will make a rather nice gift this holiday season. Here’s what you get:
How The Earth Was Made: Season One
“Earth: a unique planet. Restless and dynamic. Continents shift and clash. Volcanoes erupt. Glaciers grow and recede. Titanic forces that are constantly at work, leaving a trail of geological mysteries behind.”
I saw a bumper sticker recently that read; “Geologists dig classic rock”. I should have taken it as an omen that I would be spending some quality time with a few geologists over these last couple of weeks. It started with the excellent BBC mini-series How The Earth Changed History and culminated with the 13 episodes of the second season of How The Earth Was Made. It might be easy to confuse these titles in your video store. But, make no mistake about it. They are very different shows down to their core, pun intended.
Each episode of this History series focuses on a unique place or aspect of the Earth’s geology. Many of the shows deal with specific places, most of these American. Here you’ll find episodes on such American wonders as San Andreas Fault, New York, The Great Lakes, Yellowstone and Hawaii. The typical formula here is that we are introduced to the area of interest as it looks today. Soon we’re introduced to scientists, most of them employees of the United States Geological Society. They guide us to specific places in the target zone where they point out some of the more interesting rocks that have been discovered there. Through some CG animation, we’re given some demonstrations that illuminate the popular theories on how the place got to be what it is today. There are some Mr. Wizard-style experiments from time to time in an effort to demonstrate certain principles.
Other episodes explore such famous places as Loch Ness, The Alps, and Iceland. The shows aren’t limited to the surfaces of the Earth. There is an episode on asteroids. Natural phenomena are explored in episodes like Tsunami.
Universe: Season One
“In the beginning there was darkness. And then bang, giving birth to an endless expanding existence of time, space, and matter. Now, see further than we’ve ever imagined. Beyond the limits of our existence. In a place we call the Universe.”
Up until now these History releases have been season sets of the documentary series. This release is the first which appears to be a planned series of specific subject titles. It does create a bit of confusion when you see a series called The Universe and all of the episodes on the set deal with our own back yard, a place we call the Sol System, or Solar System, for those of you unfamiliar with the name of the star that happens to brighten your afternoons, particularly for us here in Florida on an August day. But while it’s true that the series itself has explored most of the known, and quite a few of the unknown, corners of creation itself, this set focuses on those objects that orbit the star Sol.
The episodes appear on 2 discs.
Secrets Of The Sun:
The collection begins appropriately enough with our Sun. The episode explores theories on the star’s origins and the processes that keep it burning so hot and bright. The episode looks at our star in comparison with other stars out there. Finally, the show examines the possible ways that our Sun will eventually die, likely about 5 billion years from now.
Mars: The Red Planet:
The next stop on our tour of the system is the planet that has held the most fascination for the inhabitants of Earth. Mars has dominated our fiction and our imaginations ever since the first observations. The episode examines those first ideas of Mars from the “canals” to the “face pyramid”. The various probes that have been sent to the surface are covered. There is a lot of talk of the possibility of finding water on Mars, which we since this episode have already done. That makes this a bit of a dated episode. It would have made this release a bit more special if they would have updated the information with some new footage.
The End Of The Earth:
Just in case the news isn’t depressing enough, this episode explores some of the potential hazards awaiting our planet from out there. The show examines various “doomsday” scenarios and, using some CGI, demonstrates the effect. Someone call Dean Devlin. There is some coverage of the things we can do to increase our chances of surviving some of these events. Much of the time is spent on those errant asteroids. Someone call Bruce Willis and have him get the boys together…just in case.
Jupiter: The Giant Planet:
The largest planet in our system is really a big ball of gas with a very small solid core. The planet is made mostly of hydrogen and helium and has such a low density that it would float on the Earth’s oceans, if it could fit, that is. The episode looks at the storms that have raged non-stop on Jupiter for millions of years. There’s also an examination of the way Jupiter actually protects us on the inner planets from many of those errant rocks. Maybe we won’t need Willis and the boys after all.
Of course, the most familiar object in our system is our own moon. The show looks at the possible origin theories for the heavenly body. It covers our exploration of the surface. There is also a bit on all of the effects the Moon has on Earth, beyond just controlling the tides. There doesn’t appear to be any mention of werewolves, however. I guess you simply can’t cover everything in 42 minutes.
There’s a lot of overlap footage and discussion in this episode. Porsche must have paid for some product placement here, because the episode uses the car as an analogy to some of the concepts they talk about. Here’s were we also get our first Global Warming lecture.
The Inner Planets:
This one focuses on Mercury and Venus but was pretty much unwatchable to me. They use Venus as an excuse to talk almost non-stop about Global Warming. I like my science without the political propaganda, please.
Saturn: The Lord Of The Rings:
In what has to be the best title in the series, this episode looks at the most distinctive planet in our system. While we have discovered that other planets also have rings, none are as prominent and beautiful as the rings of Saturn. The episode examines the makeup, origin, and potential demise of the rings. There is also an examination of a couple of the moons that very well may contain the building blocks for life.
It appears that Solar System episodes ran out two episodes short of a full release. This episode looks at the closest galaxies to our own. The show examines galaxy formation and how they interact with each other.
Life And Death Of A Star:
This one has at least some relevance to the topic at hand. The exploration of the life-cycles of stars does indeed include our own.
The Outer Planets:
It’s nice to see Pluto treated like a planet again. Of course, this show goes back a little ways. Covered here are also Uranus and Neptune. The episode uses the CG magic to explore what alien life-forms might look like.
The Most Dangerous Place In The Universe:
Black holes are so dangerous that not even light can escape them. This is just one of the Universe’s “hot” zones that would create serious trouble for the inter-stellar traveler. See what happens where galaxies collide. That’s definitely not a spot you’d want to be squatting in.
Search For ET:
This episode explores the SETI project. For decades we’ve scanned the skies with radio telescopes searching for distant signals, evidence that intelligence exists somewhere beyond our big blue ball.
Beyond The Big Bang:
This episode basically treats the Big Bang Theory as a scientific fact. It’s true that most scientists appear to accept the premise, no one was actually there. Now through CG and deep reaching telescope images you can be there … in a sense.
Each episode is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The 1080p image is brought to you through anAVC/MPEG-4 codec. It’s this brilliant picture quality that will drive you to want to own this collection. You would expect the CG stuff to be rather clean and high in detail. Even the vintage footage looks about as clean as I’ve ever seen it. Colors are bright and dazzling. Black levels are solid and provide incredible levels of shadow definition.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 is strictly narration.
Some Bonus Footage.
The best part of the collection is The Universe episodes. They do provide a wealth of information. I’ve been a big astronomy reader over the years, but the subject is ever-changing, and shows like this offer many new and fascinating facts. Combine that with some truly spectacular images, and you get a series that just might be worth watching. There is a lot of repetition. You can tell where the commercial breaks were, and the show recaps after each break. Of course, watching the Blu-ray, it feels like an instant repeat of what you just saw. I know that there is care not to edit out stuff when releasing it, but I think we’d all forgive a quick snip of the regurge stuff. They also tend to be a bit more dramatic than they need to be, particularly on the doomsday scenario stuff. I thought I was watching the trailer of the latest disaster film at times. These guys sure know how to keep you awake at night. We all know by now from watching movies that “Earth has had its ups. Earth has had its downs. We never know what’s going to be around the next corner. And a lot of it’s bad.”