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The Universe in 3D(TV) (2011)
Three episodes from the sixth season of The Universe are presented in 3D.
For more about The Universe in 3D and the The Universe in 3D Blu-ray release, see the The Universe in 3D Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on November 10, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Narrator: Erik Thompson
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The Universe in 3D Blu-ray Review
What's better than the apocalpyse? The apocalypse in 3D!
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, November 10, 2012
A few years ago the Sci-Fi Channel underwent one of the most ridiculous rebrandings in television history, becoming Syfy. This prompted me to joke at the time that it sounded like some of my Jewish New York relatives talking about the Americanized names some of my more assimilated kin have assumed through the years. If you can muster a good Long Island accent as you say this, it will help: "Yes, I know he was born Seymour Feinstein, but he thinks Sy Fy is going to get him more work." I've long wondered why History Channel continues to insist on its own name, when for all intents and purposes it could easily rebrand itself as Doom and Gloom, Impending Death, or (if it didn't bring to mind Mel Gibson) the perhaps more stylish Apocalypto. History does fantastic work a lot of the time, but some of their regular series focus too often and too relentlessly on doomsday scenarios that just grow tiresome after a while. (I mean, don't we all have enough to worry about without getting jittery over asteroids wiping out all life on our planet?) Probably the worst in this regard is The Universe, a series which had a really strong first (and maybe even second) season, but then has more and more just gone to the well of disaster, over and over again. Now History is jumping on the 3D bandwagon and releasing three episodes from The Universe: The Complete Season Six, post-converted to 3D with some surprisingly spectacular results. But guess what: two of the three episodes are fraught with danger, death and destruction, and even the third flirts with cosmic disaster on an almost unbelievable scale. Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be an extremely bumpy interstellar flight.
The episodes included are (this content is repeated from my review of the 2D release of Season Six):
Catastrophes That Changed the Planets. Once again it's "Apocalypse Now" on The Universe, only this time on a solar system scale. This episode delves into how cataclysms in various epochs created and then altered planets and the general "neighborhood" around us. The chaotic nature of untold eons past is compared to a pinball machine, where planets were formed and destroyed with seemingly careless abandon. These cosmic disasters created virtually every aspect of our solar system, according to this episode. One of the more interesting facts that comes out in this outing is how the order of the planets as we now know it was once different and that at one point Jupiter and Saturn especially kind of "wandered around" before settling down into their current orbits. This is yet another "countdown" episode, which seeks to present the viewer with something like a Top 10 of cosmic calamities, counting down to a patently ridiculous Number 1, a potential "duel" between Jupiter and Mercury that might wreak havoc on Earth. Emphasis on might—this is yet another episode in this series where disaster is highlighted, and then a scientist comes along to inform us that the chances are exceedingly remote.
Nemesis: The Sun's Evil Twin. There are some cynics who might be inclined to laugh out loud at the premise of this episode, a premise which posits a dim red star (which is only suspected of existing) which every, oh, 26 million years or so triggers untold disasters, mostly by flinging comets from the wonderfully named Oort Cloud toward the Earth. This is another massively hypothetical episode that nonetheless is rather compelling, and which has some interesting sidebars, such as the development of a cosmic sleuth system known as WIDE (Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer), which, if it's ever launched, should be able to find Nemesis since it reads heat rather than light. There's also a segment on a world that few have probably heard of, an ancient planetoid named Sedna whose radically changing orbit may hint at the nefarious activity of Nemesis.
How the Solar System Was Made. Haven't we been down this Milky Way before? This is an undeniably informative episode, but it just smacks of what is so problematic about The Universe, namely, they just keep covering the same information over and over in slightly repackaged ways. Here we're once again treated to the development of our solar system, and the "gimmick" this time is that they use a timeline to chart the course of that development over 700 million years. This episode benefits mightily from some great looking CGI, which is often almost three dimensional in its effectiveness, especially as it depicts huge floating rocks in space. There's also some interesting information about the "proto-planet" that trailed Earth in eons past, Thea. But for anyone who's been a fan of The Universe from its first episode, this is going to seem like awfully stale material for the most part.
The Universe in 3D Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Universe in 3D is presented on 3D Blu-ray with MPEG-4 MVC encoded 1080p transfers in 1.78:1. (For the record, 2D AVC encoded versions of all three episodes are also included, as is the norm on these History releases.) Fans of The Universe know that great swaths of the series are built out of CGI, which one assumes is inherently easy to convert to 3D, and in fact a lot of all three episodes look really excellent, with some impressive depth and really finely gradated fields which allow the viewer to feel at times like they're in between huge celestial bodies. Perhaps most surprising about these 3D conversions is how good the talking head segments look. Foreground objects (usually but not always the main speaker) are clearly placed forward and once again excellent depth of field is on display. All of this said, there are some curiously flat moments as well, including some sequences that would seem to be custom made for the 3D treatment. A look at Saturn's rings, for example, doesn't really pop out at the viewer the way one would expect it to, and some of the purely graphical elements are pretty much flat as a pancake, with absolutely no depth added. The general video quality here is quite good, albeit with perhaps a very slight added layer of softness due to the 3D conversion. Depending on your equipment, you may be prone to some ghosting here and there, most noticeably on some of the text that accompanies some of the imagery. Colors remain surprisingly robust throughout the 3D presentation, with some really beautifully lustrous hues adding to the visual allure.
The Universe in 3D Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Perhaps surprisingly, the three episodes in The Universe in 3D have been given a surround sound upgrade from their original LPCM 2.0 presentations (and which the specs on the disc inserts state are still being offered) to DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mixes. There's some decent surround activity in some of the more "likely suspect" sequences, such as huge asteroids hurtling through space, and scenes of the dinosaurs meeting their fate. As should be expected, talking head segments and narration are still anchored resolutely front and center. This isn't the most consistently immersive track History has ever done, but it utilizes enough basic discrete channelization to make it interesting most of the time. One noticeable improvement here is in the low end, especially with regard to the bombastic LFE that dots all three episodes. Fidelity is excellent and dynamic range is appealingly wide.
The Universe in 3D Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
No supplements of any kind are offered on any of the three discs in this set.
The Universe in 3D Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
History might also want to rebrand itself as The Repackaging Network, for it has once again gone back and culled a kind of weird selection of previously released episodes and then "gussied them up" by putting them each on separate discs and sticking them all in a lenticular slipcase. Is it worth the money? That will be up to the individual consumer, though as this review goes live, the set can be had for 50% its somewhat exorbitant MSRP, which probably makes it more appealing to many potential customers. The good news here is that the 3D conversion has been rather artfully handled. The CGI elements look really great, with planets, plumes of gas, exploding boulders and all sorts of celestial phenomena moving through a beautifully deep visual field. Even more surprising is the amount of depth in the "real life" talking heads sequences, which generally look excellent. Balancing these positives is the occasional negative of weirdly flat rendering in sequences that really should have popped more impressively. The lack of supplements is also distressing. 3D-aholics may well want to check this out, but my hunch is History will be releasing complete seasons of The Universe in 3D, so prudent consumers may well want to wait for a bit to see what happens.
The Universe: Other Seasons
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The Universe in 3D Blu-ray, News and Updates
• The Universe 3D Blu-ray - October 19, 2012
This November, explore the edges of the cosmic unknown with The Universe 3D. Released by A+E Networks the 3-disc set originally aired on the History Channel and has prevously been released, albeit in 2D. Grab The Universe 3D in stores November 13th.
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