In a world of numerous channels and numerous series' something like "Brave New World" could easily get lost in the shuffle. On the surface it's not all that different from the multitudes of other science documentary series that spring up from time to time, but the attachment of Stephen Hawking is cleverly employed to get skeptical viewers to take a second look, and those who do are in for a treat. "Brave New World" is a very straightforward, five-part documentary series focusing on modern, somewhat radical advancements in science and how they directly benefit humanity. For those accustomed to programs involving Hawking dealing with complex, theoretical physics, "Brave New World" is a welcome change.
With each episode running a mere 45-odd minutes, "Brave New World" does find itself immediately plagued with the conundrum of quality vs. quantity and the ensuing compromise is admirable. Hawking serves as the lynchpin throughout each episodes mini-segments, introducing them but adding very little otherwise. The individual segment hosts, including, but not limited to David Attenborough and Richard Dawkins are the added bonus I wasn't expecting upon viewing the program. The science for each breakthrough is presented in a very accessible format with presenters interviewing the men and women behind these new technologies and whenever possible, making sure the technology is shown off. In the debut episode, "Machines," this makes for a somewhat frustrating experience for those wanting detail; the time allotted is merely enough to introduce, show, and wrap-up. Personally, while I found this approach maddening at times, it does serve the ultimate purpose to get viewers to seek out more information pertaining to what they find fascinating, which at the end of the day, is a key pursuit of science.
By and large, "Machines," "Technology," and "Biology" are considerably entertaining and informative, the episodes "Health" and "Environment" do stray into more somber territory, tackling basic issues as disease and the destruction of the planet. The underlying theme is one of hope, but the reminder of humanities destructive tendencies as well as the suffering of those in less developed nations could give some viewers the feeling that "Brave New World" has an agenda; it doesn't, but the contrast between episodes is worth noting. Ultimately, some of these more sobering issues highlight breakthroughs that are truly inspiring, while such technologies as cars that drive themselves, are neat, but do make you wonder exactly what problem that's supposed to solve. The five episodes of "Brave New World" fly by in no time at all, with the dynamic, engaging presentation solely responsible. At the end of the day, "Brave New World" is a great resource for science educators to inspire wonder, while the general public might find it on par with a really well produced news program.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is colorful, although the color spectrum is more warm than natural. Detail is firmly in the average range, with some shots looking like they've had DNR applied, but more likely, it's just the quality of the cameras being used. Digital noise is virtually non-existent, while compression artifacts are mildly noticeable in darker areas of the image.
The English stereo audio track is perfectly suitable for the documentary program. Narration is warm and centered, while on-the-spot audio is generally far beyond adequate. The generic musical score feels a little too dialed up, but all in all, it's a serviceable track. English SDH subtitles are included.
The only extras are a text-based biographies section on the series' presenters and a printed, supplementary booklet.
While the overall replay value of "Brave New World" is highly questionable, the program itself does well to strike a balance between sheer volume of information and overall depth. At its core, it's not a heavy program and the shifting tones of the five episodes may be off-putting to some, but "Brave New World" still earns admirable marks. Rent It.