The Universe on DVD
By Jim Bray
If youre a space nut, or just want to bask in the glory of the
Universe around us, have I got the DVD for you.
Its called, not surprisingly, The Universe and it takes
viewers on a journey that begins at the center of our solar system and
ends as far out in the vast cosmic regions as technology allowed when
the DVD was put together.
And, as always should be when a DVD is being put together, the images
are presented in anamorphic widescreen and fill the 16x9 televisions
screen completely, offering you a panoramic view of the wonders of nature
(or God) that the disc displays.
The footage is nothing short of amazing, and they kick things off right
(after a short introduction to the telescopes themselves) with a fascinating
look - including time lapse footage - of our Sun. This spectacular section,
courtesy of NASAs SOHO and TRACE telescopes, lets you clearly see
the source of life on Earth at work fusing its gases and emitting energy
and radiation whether it be in the form of solar wind, gigantic prominences,
or just big globs or trails of star stuff (to steal a phrase the late
Carl Sagan used to great effect in his groundbreaking series Cosmos)
leaping from the stars surface and following its magnetic field
until its swallowed up again by our systems primary.
It really is spectacular and to me this section alone is worth the price
of admission because, while Id seen plenty of sun shots before,
nothing had come close to the detailed (and frighteningly beautiful) shots
Upon leaving the sun, The Universe takes us on a quick tour of our solar
system, with some pretty good shots of each planet, before leaping outward
to the stars toward which we should as a race be reaching.
Our cosmic zoom outward from our neighborhood first focuses
on the rest of our galaxy, the Milky Way, introducing us to such wonders
as a variety of star types and clusters. Also on hand are a wide selection
of nebulae, those gas and/or dust clouds that are scattered through space
and which can be the nurseries of new stars. Were treated to looks
at Reflection, Emission, and Planetary nebulae, as well as the remains
left by those titanic explosions of stars, supernovae.
And the Milky Way is only the beginning. From there we keep going outward
- and backward in time, since the areas we see are so far away that it
takes hundreds, thousands, millions, or billions of years for its light
to reach the Hubble and its sister space telescopes.
Subsequent chapters of the disc deal with the local group
(the neighborhood of galaxies and stuff "closest to home" and including
our own galaxy), and continues on to distant galaxies so far away that
it boggles the mind just to think about the technology that brings us
these fabulous color pictures.
It also beckons us onward and outward, not only because its
there but because its necessary for Mankind to leave its cradle
- if for no other reason than to ensure our species survival when
our sun inevitably dies and takes our Earth with it.
Okay, this is unlikely to happen in our lifetimes, but there's no time
like the present to start preparing.
This review is written mere weeks after the space shuttle Columbia accident
which, despite the medias sackcloth and ashes circus (and not minimizing
the personal tragedy for the families and friends of the astronauts),
should be considered nothing more than a small speed bump on the road
to the stars. And as The Universe shows us, there is wonder
to behold and to grasp in the vastness that lies above our heads - but
as with any frontier its a dangerous and unforgiving place, so we
must go with our eyes open.
Just as those unlucky seven pioneers did.
But back to the DVD (sorry for the lecture, but the media circus surrounding
the Columbia accident really rubbed me the wrong way; and as usual, they
focused on the wrong things). The shots displayed in The Universe
include such beauty and color as to be breathtaking and should be required
viewing in schools and museums worldwide. If nothing else, your eyes will
be treated and with luck your mind may be expanded and our little world
put a bit more into perspective.
Alas, there are none of the newest shots showing potential planets around
distant stars, but you can't have everything.
The visuals are accompanied by a nice musical track thats mixed
into Dolby Digital 5.1. There isnt a lot of surround, but what there
is is well done - and though your subwoofer wont get the best workout,
it should be remembered that this disc isnt about the sound: its
about the sightseeing, the interstellar and intergalactic rubbernecking.
To that end, the video quality is very good, though since these pictures
are digitally enhanced images that stretch the state of the art, sometimes
I noticed some digital artifacts such as jagged edges and such (which
may not have been visible had I been watching on a progressive scan DVD
player), but these in no way impinge on the grandeur that unfolds. Colors
are rich and glorious and the detail is as good as Hubble and her friends
in orbit (and on earth manipulating the images) can get it.
You can watch the presentation with or without commentary, but I highly
recommend the commentary. Its read a tad dryly, and a touch bass-heavy,
but the information is very good and youll learn a lot. Without
the commentary all you really have is a spectacular light show in the
grand tradition of the Star Gate sequence from 2001:
a space odyssey - not that theres anything wrong with that!
One thing I would have liked to see is more labels. While most of the
main objects you see are named, sometimes its hard to tell exactly
to which part of the shot which they refer, and a quick arrow superimposition
would have helped this (though perhaps at the cost of some grandeur for
those watching without the narration).
And there are extras, too, including interviews with Alex Filippenko
(Professor of Astronomy, UC Berkeley) and Karel Schrijver (Astonomer,
Lockheer Martin Advanced Technology Center). These astronomers actually
use the Hubble and its sisters, and they give us some insight into their
work, including the discovery of an anti-gravity (can you
imagine if they could harness that?) thats speeding up the Universes
And just to sweeten the deal, the disc contains a screen saver for users
of the Windows operating system. You have to open the disc, rather than
merely play it, to get at the screen saver via a standard setup program,
but the installation is simple and youre invited to the Universe
Web site (www.universedvd.com)
to find more such goodies. I'm currently using the Universe screen saver
on my PC and I love it.
The Universe is also available on VHS, but what a pale shadow that would
be of this mind-bending DVD.
The Universe, from Universe Productions
Approximately 70 minutes, anamorphic widescreen (16x9 TV compatible),
Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
Written and Produced by Tim Tully
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