"The Universe in 3D" is a 3-disc set, each disc containing one episode of the History Channel series "The Universe". All of these are from Season 6, the entirety of which is available separately in 2D. The basic format of the series is narrated CG animation of planets in space with narration from Erik Thompson, interspersed with comments from field experts. Two of these episodes have a "doomsday prophecy" theme while the last is a little more informational.
The first episode is "Catastrophes That Changed the Planets." This is presented as a countdown of the top ten biggest events in the history of the universe where basically things have crashed into other things, knocking out large pieces of planets or sending them into a different orbit. The first words spoken in this episode are "Throughout its 4.5 billion year history, our solar system has witnessed carnage on a colossal scale." You can pretty much see where this is going from here. One of the top events is the theory that Mercury was once a much larger planet, but an asteroid colission caused most of its crust to break away leaving its core behind. This is depicted in a fun demonstration where a bowling ball is covered with a coat of plaster and set out in a field, then shot at with a cannon. Similar demonstrations are done for most of the other events, such as using models (with a bit of visual effects thrown in) to show how Saturn possibly obtained its rings from an ice-covered moon flew into it.
Disc Two is "Nemesis: The Sun's Evil Twin." The premise here is that a second sun exists which orbits around our normal sun at a 26 million year pace and as it nears planets, causes comets to hurl into their surface. Supposedly this is what caused dinosaurs to become extinct. The question is- will the same thing later happen to HUMANS? There are a few fun practical demonstrations here as well, including a bowling ball thrown into the mix of smaller balls being juggled.
Lastly we have "How the Solar System Was Made." A 700 million year timeline is used to show how this may have happened, starting with a cloud of gas and dust particles being spread apart by an exploding star. Footage of the Knott's Berry Farm amusement park, which looks great in 3D, is used to illustrate this, showing how a roller coaster has no place to go but downward when it reaches a peak on the track. Another neat example shows a glass blower taking a hot ball of liquid glass, then showing how to turn it into a flat plate much like the structure of the planets.
All three episodes are presented in 1080p 3D with option for 2D playback. The CG segments look a bit compromised compared to effects you would see in a feature film, but they do a good job at illustrating everything. In 3D, the effect is not spectacular but still pleasing. There are no real "pop-out" effects but animation of planets flying towards the screen come close, and the many shots of asteroids and debris in space have a very good 3D effect. The live-action shots look great in 3D as well- the various demonstrations are fun to watch, and the shots of people just talking are mostly staged in outdoor locations with a good amount of depth in the backgrounds. There is a bit of 2D footage here and there, appearing slightly deep inside the screen. Overall there isn't a whole lot of "wow" factor in 3D, but it's still nice to look at.
Although the cover indicates 2-channel PCM, sound on all three programs is actually 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. Surrounds are used effectively in the animated segments with all the flying planets and what-not (never mind that outer space is supposedly silent in real life.) Spoken parts are isolated in the center channel, with only minimal sound effects- music and everything else fills the remaining channels. (This is how most movie trailers have been mixed ever since they began using multi-channel digital sound, and I always found the effect a good display of the channel separation as well as an amusing effect playing only the center channel with no music.)
The outer box indicates subtitles in English, German, Spanish, Dutch, Norwegian, Danish and Swedish subtitles, but this is only true for the third disc- the first two include subs in the first four languages.
Nothing else here, not even any promos or trailers.
Overall, "The Universe in 3D" looks good in 3D but should not be the sole reason for buying this set. Casual viewers may not be up to all the scientific talk here, while those seriously into the subject may be put off by the rather sensationalistic nature of the first two episodes. My main criticism is how this uses three single-layer discs, each in its own case for a 44-minute program. The complete season set of "The Universe" includes all three of these episodes, albeit only in 2D, on the same disc together. I did not find any of these available individually, so it seems unnecessary for this to be a 3-disc set except of course to make it look like more than it is. I do not know if all episodes of this series have been produced in 3D, but if any more are issued I hope they will be in a more compact form.
Jesse Skeen is a life-long obsessive media collector and former theater film projectionist. He enjoys watching movies and strives for presenting them perfectly, but lacks the talent to make his own.