The History Channel is known for its production quality with regards to documentary series and one-offs. So many shows have come out over the years that have taken the genre by storm and have garnered a rather extensive following. Sure their programming over the years has had many ups and downs, like most television channels, but in 2007 when they premiered The Universe that was most decidedly an up.
With the entire cosmos as its canvas, The Universe whipped up a fantastic collection of episodes in a short amount of time. It just doesn't seem like it has been two years since the show premiered, and yet today we're looking at the third season on DVD. There's such a great amount of energy behind this production and just about every episode has something unique to offer. Just looking at the first two seasons shows an extensive amount of subject variety and it's quite evident that the show is popular among audiences. After all History Channel has already released each season individually and compiled a collection of the first and second seasons. It stands to reason that the third will undoubtedly be gobbled up by the masses as well.
In case you're unfamiliar with the show, The Universe takes state of the art computer graphics and presents it along with commentaries by scientists, astronomers, and know-it-alls to offer an in depth look at a specific subject. Each episode changes the focus a bit and there's always something new to tune in for from week to week. After all, there are worlds beyond our own out there and all sorts of phenomena that defy explanation. It stands to reason that until we get out there and see these things for ourselves, The Universe is our contemporary, comprehensive guide to the galactic unknown. Granted much of the program is sensationalized for television, but the show proves to be solidly entertaining and informative for sofa-bound astronomers.
Like the prior seasons, the third outing for The Universe has a nice supply of diverse topics and episodes. While the other seasons of the show spent plenty of time talking about the celestial bodies close to our own and some other elements of science fiction, this season expands the subject matter somewhat. Rather than look at specific constellations or planets, most of the episodes here take a theme such as sex in space, parallel universes, light speed, and a variety of other cosmic phenomena. It's another successful year for the show, though I will say that the lack of consistency from episode to episode felt greater here. That's not to say that the season was bad by any stretch of imagination, it's just that as you watch this boxed set you'll get the impression that subjects were picked out a hat and there's no uniform progression.
The best episode from this season, in my opinion, looks at potential disasters deep within space as we explore further than we have before. It's probably common knowledge that if something's going to go wrong it's generally upon launch or reentry, but what about if something happens on the way to Mars or another planet? There was a lot of hypothetical discussion in this one, but it was all fascinating at the same time. Likewise the theory of traveling faster than light speed is talked about in one episode here, another hypothesizes about stopping an asteroid from destroying Earth, and a broader episode looks at a collection of strange things caught on cameras and telescopes. Those are just examples of the better of twelve episodes, though honorable mention should go to the "Sex in Space" episode, I suppose.
Unfortunately there are also a couple of weak points in this season as well. The "Edge of Space" episode felt lackluster and ironically a little too down to Earth, and the "Alien Faces" episode had too much fiction for its own good. Even these less-than-stellar episodes entertain on some level, but compared to the rest they stand out as the worst of the bunch.
All in all the third season of The Universe is a success, despite some inconsistencies. It's not exactly the strongest season of the show to date, but it maintains a certain level of quality and is something fans will definitely want to pick up. If you haven't seen the show yet, then you're missing out on one of the finer productions from the History Channel. The Universe is quite entertaining and informative, which is what a good documentary series should be. Consider this season highly recommended.
Once again The Universe hits DVD with a 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio that continues to remain non-anamorphic. History Channel is doing a real disservice to its fans by continuing their releases in this manner, though I suppose there's still always hitting the zoom feature to skirt the issue. As far as the image quality is concerned, the show holds up pretty well. The picture is sharp with some fine details and natural colors throughout most scenes. There is some archival footage so your mileage may vary based on how old it is, but the bottom line is that this season looks every bit as good as the other ones did.
Documentaries are well known for not needing a 5.1 surround mix to get the point across. The Universe hits DVD with its original 2.0 stereo Dolby Digital recording and it is a very competent presentation. The sound is crisp, clean, and free of distortion so there is no loss of quality on the soundstage. On the front channel everything sounds good, but with nothing in the way of separation the experience remains relatively static. No subtitle tracks are available for this release.
The only features you're going to find on this boxed set are a brief amount of textual facts about the universe and a photo gallery of some very nice images. The only problem with the image gallery is that you can't remove the navigation icons and there is no slideshow feature.
The Universe continues to be a nice success story for the History Channel. The show's third season carries the torch from the previous ones and pushes things forward with a nice variety of topics. With twelve episodes on four discs, the set has plenty to offer fans and the uninitiated alike. Granted a couple of the episodes aren't quite up to the standard the series has set for itself, but even they hold some entertainment value. All in all this is a thought-provoking series that offers plenty of information and entertainment that is definitely worth checking out. Highly Recommended.
Check out more of my reviews here. Head on over to my anime blog as well for random musings and reviews of anime, manga, and stuff from Japan!