It seems these days History or its sibling network, H2 can't turn around without getting blasted for running far less programming reminiscent of the "good old days" of the networks origins, instead filling modern timeslots with reality schlock such as "Pawn Stars," pseudoscientific horse hockey like "Ancient Aliens," or one of many sensationalized special events intended to enlighten the lowest common denominator among viewers through flashy graphics, repetitive talking points, all while being low on actual mental sustenance. Originally debuting in 2007, "The Universe" seemed to be a quiet exception to this growing trend, offering viewers CGI-enhanced but generally substantial educational programming in a prime time setting. Seven seasons in, a question begs answering, does it hold up? And I say, no it does not hold up. (Avid History viewers will get the reference there). "The Best of The Universe" offers seven episodes that one would think highlight the very best of the current 78 episodes in existence; yet, as lazy marketing would have it, much like "The Best of Ancient Aliens" this two-disc offering merely re-labels two previous season discs, one from season four and one from season six, highlighting far from the best the series ever offered.
The first of the two discs is the least harmful in terms of masquerading as truly informational programming. While the topics are indeed sensational, with titles such as "Death Stars" and "The Day the Moon Was Gone," the overall intent of each episode does have a basic air of authenticity and intention of educating viewers to it. What it doesn't do is provide a hearty foundation for any of the topics it covers, instead trading on what little prior knowledge the viewer has to set the stage for 40-odd minutes of sensational facts that in theory could happen, but in all likelihood (thankfully) won't. It's a common trend the series has employed since at least the third season, and I wholly implore any interested parties to, at minimum, seek out the first season of the series as it is a truly fascinating and worthwhile modern approach to commercialized science education.
The second disc is classic modern History, with all sense of restraint thrown to the wind as the topics enter full-blown panic inducing mode most notably in "Nemesis: The Sun's Evil Twin." While at one time, the Nemesis hypothesis was worth studying and its effect on the orbits of our solar system, possibly leading to mass cosmic extinctions, NASA casually brushed the whole validity of such a theory aside. While I don't fault History solely for still running with the episode as it was likely produced well before the NASA statement, I do ask why "The Universe" couldn't devote more time to the more "mundane" aspects of astronomy, perhaps paying homage to the breakthroughs that got us to this point in history in the first place. Only "How the Solar System Was Made" gives the viewer the feeling that "The Universe" continues to exist to teach something of meaning, yet the facts presented are nothing truly revelatory and were already covered with much more tact in the first few seasons of the show. The blunt truth is "The Best of the Universe" is a mediocre waste of time, as the series it's highlighting has far outworn its welcome and is outclassed by numerous offerings predating its own origins. Either seek out a less sensational program or find yourself content with the first two seasons of this series.
The 1.78:1 non-anamorphic widescreen presentation is inexcusable in 2013; the series sports what wants to be a very vibrant color palette, but is hampered by below-average detail, compression artifacts, a hint of edge-enhancement, and some issues with banding, Disappointing is an understatement, with the presentation making the whole program feel like a cheap afterthought.
The Dolby Digital English 2.0 audio is a very clear mix that appropriately fits the nature of the program.
Not even coming close to highlighting the best this far expired program has to offer, "The Best of the Universe" is a lazy re-labeling of two odd discs from two random seasons; there is little more here than sugary facts presented with bright lights and CGI imagery. To add insult to injury, anyone unfortunate enough to end up with this set will get a long antiquated A/V presentation Skip It.