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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Hyperspace
Hyperspace
BBC Worldwide // Unrated // April 30, 2002
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted June 10, 2002 | E-mail the Author
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It's a documentary that promises to take us "from the birth of the universe to the end of our world," an awe-inspiring voyage that will explore fascinating scientific topics such as the Big Bang and the emergence of life on Earth, the connection between asteroids and mass extinctions, black holes, extraterrestrial intelligence, terraforming, and space travel. And all this takes up... three hours and only one DVD disc? It's evident from the beginning that Hyperspace spreads itself very thin indeed, with the six episodes only running a half-hour apiece.

The program's name is quite revealing. It was originally titled "Space!" in Britain, with the title changed to "Hyperspace" for the U.S. release. Now, the word "hyperspace" does not appear a single time in the documentary, which makes it an odd choice for a title; on the other hand, it does capture quite well the overall tone of the series. "Space!" implies a relatively serious documentary; "Hyperspace" has science-fictional overtones, suggesting that it's aimed more at young aficionados of Star Trek rather than viewers who are interested in serious science.

The overall tone of Hyperspace is sensationalistic. Whatever the topic, the most far-out, wild hypotheses are the ones that are presented in detail, while the more reputable and supported ideas are brushed off. For instance, in "Star Stuff" the question is raised of how life originated on Earth. After giving only the briefest of brief allusions to the theory that's supported by the scientific community at large – that self-replicating molecules formed in the rich elemental "soup" of Earth's primordial seas, probably with the help of energy from lightning strikes – the episode is devoted to the theory that life was seeded from outer space, riding in on comets and asteroids from somewhere "out there."

Even fairly straightforward material is hyped up (perhaps that's where the "hyper" space title came from!) unrealistically. "Staying Alive" is devoted to frightening the viewer with the idea of asteroid impacts destroying all life on the planet. "Black Holes" is the episode that really hits the top of the scale for sensationalistic rhetoric, though. Phrases like "A black hole is gravity gone mad. [...] What could create such a monster?" are par for the course.

A few of the episodes present some moderately interesting information without too much exaggeration, probably because the topics of these episodes are fairly wild to begin with. "New Worlds" is probably the best of the lot, with a decent discussion of terraforming other worlds in the solar system, though the presentation is marred by a lack of context for the time scale involved. Likewise, "Boldly Go" offers a few interesting tidbits about different propulsion systems for spacecraft, from the ion drive to the solar sail, before veering off into speculative territory with wormholes.

So, what's there to like in Hyperspace? We do get treated to some very impressive computer graphics and animations; they're just not explained particularly well, which reduces their informative value. For viewers who have become interested in science by way of science fiction movies and television, Hyperspace does offer actual information that one might hope could spark a further interest in the subject. If that seems like a tepid recommendation, it's because it is. For anyone who is even moderately interested in the subject (or even potentially interested), I would instead recommend the documentary series Cosmos, created and narrated by Carl Sagan (a real scientist, not an actor, to boot). Cosmos may not have the fancy graphics of Hyperspace, but it's infinitely better in terms of content and presentation.

Video

BBC's DVD production of Hyperspace adheres to its typical high standards. The image is presented in anamorphic widescreen, at its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. In general, the picture is very nice looking, with vivid colors and good contrast that show up the computer graphics to great effect. I did spot a touch of edge enhancement, and the image isn't quite as sharp as it could be, but all in all, it looks great.

Audio

The Dolby 5.1 track makes a nice contribution to the overall experience of the documentary. The sound is clear and clean, with Sam Neill's narration coming across well. Sound effects are handled effectively as well.

Extras

Hyperspace is light on the extras, or at least it's light on worthwhile extras. There's a set of text "space facts" and a photo gallery, along with a ten-minute featurette "Behind the Graphics" that really doesn't convey anything particularly informative.

Final thoughts

Hyperspace is light stuff. Each half-hour episode is very light in content (though indeed it's pretty to look at). At best if offers a taste of some of the possible topics of interest in a few fields of science... but like cotton candy, there's no substance to it.
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