The History Channel was really on to something when they introduced The Universe to their lineup. It didn't really matter if you were a fan of space and space exploration or not, because this show used dramatic CGI and interviews from respectable astronomers to introduce, and answer, all of the mind-bending questions about the ever expanding infinity beyond our atmosphere. It didn't matter how difficult the subject matter seemed as a concept - The first three seasons of The Universe presented all of the latest theories in astronomy in a way that anybody could understand them, effectively making this the first program about space that didn't make you feel like you were watching those old boring videos in science class. However, the show seemingly jumped the shark in the fourth season, as it neglected the wide appeal that made it so successful in the first place, and instead opted to play host to wildly speculative science fiction about the past and future of the universe, eventually spending more time focusing on cataclysmic events than anything else. The fifth season continued this trend, further reinforcing the possibility that the series had run out of decent concepts to discuss, and it was with that fifth, final and abysmal season that The Universe had imploded. The series was, thankfully, not renewed for a sixth season and a complete series boxed set had been released to the masses... and yet five months after the release of this Complete Series Megaset, a sixth season debuted on H2 and is now available for you to own on Blu-ray. Doesn't that kind of make you feel like you're in an episode of The Twilight Zone?
For the sake of evaluating this program fairly, I'm going to forget that a bunch of people who purchased the 'complete series' boxed set probably feel like they wasted their money. I'm going to forget that they have every reason in the world to be upset, considering the fact that History must have known new episodes were in production when they released the Megaset. Personally, I think all of that could be forgiven as long as The Universe went back to its roots. That means discussing space stuff of real interest that anybody could enjoy, and not the outlandish science fiction stuff that the show resorted to presenting in later seasons, such as time travel, teleportation, and the 18 bajillion ways our planet could meet an untimely end in the not too distant future. After all, there had to be a good reason to resurrect a show that was showing no real signs of life by the time it wrapped its previous, supposedly final season, right? Right? Well, if you were hoping for some good old fashioned astronomy to make a grand return for this new batch of episodes, prepare to be disappointed.
The fifth season of The Universe was grasping for straws at best, and I'm afraid the sixth season sets the bar even lower. The people behind this show seemingly believe that The Universe is more accessible when they cover the dangers and catastrophes that have either shaped, or will ultimately dismantle our solar system. After all, it gives them an excuse to use CGI to its fullest extent, virtually 'Michael Bay-ing' the series with images of meteors and planets colliding. Unfortunately, the supposed 'exciting' imagery on display here makes this more of a special effects showcase than a solid exercise in edutainment. For example, the first episode, Catastrophes that Changed the Planets, focuses on the violent historical aspect of our solar system's history, whereas the second episode, Nemesis: The Sun's Evil Twin, speculates our sun has a devious relationship with another star that becomes problematic for us every million years or so. Another episode that goes out of its way to highlight disaster is Worst Days on Planet Earth, and as the title suggests, it reveals a history of our planet that's much more disastrous than we, or even top scientists for that matter, had ever imagined.
Now, I'm not against The Universe taking some time to point out these horrible events, but most of this stuff has already been touched upon in previous seasons. At this point, the minds behind the series are merely repackaging all the information into different thematic ideas, so they can continually present their information as new and groundbreaking... and that's something I do have a major problem with. What incentive does anyone have to keep watching this series week after week if all it does is rehash the same information over and over again, especially when that information is more for entertainment value than anything else? Furthermore, doesn't this kind of presentation only hurt the series as a whole? The Universe was once a unique program that was successful in presenting space in a way that was fun and entertaining, but now it's becoming more and more like every other disaster program that's airing on similar channels. And speaking of rehashed concepts already seen on previous seasons, the major eye roller this season is the episode, How the Solar System Was Made. Obviously, that's been covered quite extensively since the first season. Why is it being repackaged yet again as a stand-alone episode?
As far as the new content the show does happen to provide? Well, it comes off as uninspired, literally feeling like it's been scraped from the bottom of the barrel. Crash Landing on Mars details a 'what if' scenario, questioning what might happen if the first manned mission to Mars hits a snag that would leave our brave astronauts with no way home. UFO: The Real Deal tries to reveal what kind of technology would be possible to travel freely from star to star, so it's basically just more theories that amount to little with the technology we have today. Last but not least, the final three episodes of the season are the most useless episodes in the series to date, as they come off more like episodes of Mythbusters than anything else, taking wild ideas and trying to prove them scientifically, which in most of these cases, they can't - God and the Universe questions if there's any scientific evidence of a creator, How Big, How Far, How Fast attempts to blow our minds by putting speed, distance and size into a perspective we can grasp, and Alien Sounds questions if you can actually be heard in space or not.
I really wanted The Universe to come back and prove to me that there was some life left in the series... that the people who piece this show together are still capable of finding REAL astronomical science worth discussing and presenting it in a way that's factual at its core, and not built off a foundation of mere 'what-ifs'. However, it seems that the future of The Universe is destined to remain bleak, as the focus of the show has been deemed to be more successful if the show continually caters to sci-fi geeks and people who love watching stuff smash together in space via CGI. If you already own the Megaset, do yourself a favor and imagine that this sixth season doesn't actually exist, but rather came from some alternate dimension that we shouldn't have access to.
The Universe - The Complete Season Six isn't presented in 1080i like its predecessors were, but has instead been treated to a 1080p, 1.78:1 presentation via the AVC codec. This show looked pretty impressive when it aired on H2, and this Blu-ray is a decent upgrade from the broadcast, although not a substantial one. Colors are lush, contrast is spot on most of the time, there are no majorly distracting artifacts or edge enhancement to speak of, and detail is superb. However, there's some noticeable banding on occasion, and black levels have a tendency to look a little brighter than they should at times. Other than that, this is a pretty stellar video presentation, at least as far as a space documentary series is concerned. This isn't top-tier high-def material, but fans of the series won't be disappointed, as long as they don't have unrealistic expectations.
The only thing this season set has to offer is a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track. Everything sounds fine and dandy - The dialogue is always clear and distinguishable, and the music is a bit more realistic sounding than I expected for a track sporting only two channels. The big problem I have with this track isn't in its technical representation (because it represents the source very well), but with the sound mix itself. The Universe is probably the best series History has had to offer in a very long time, if not ever, so you would think they'd bump it up a notch and provide some surround sound. Unfortunately that's not the case, but again, for those of you that are fans of the series as is, you won't find a bad representation of the source here.
In terms of supplements, this set never even leaves the atmosphere, let alone soar the cosmos. Despite bonus features appearing on seasons 2, 3, and 4 of The Universe, this set emulates the featureless package on season 5 and gives us absolutely nothing in the way of supplements. It's really a shame, because I would have loved to have heard a reason for bringing this show back from the dead so soon.
The Universe - The Complete Season Six could have been a cosmic return to form, but instead winds up being an astronomical waste of time. Most of the ideas presented in this batch of episodes have either already been represented in previous seasons, or come as a result of some scientist shrugging his shoulders and saying, "What if..." I'd stay far away from this release, just skip it. However, if you must subject yourself to this season, there are absolutely no supplements, but you'll at least find the video and audio to be represented in a way that's even better than broadcast.