Dr. Brian Thomas Swimme's "Journey of the Universe: The Epic Story of Cosmic, Earth, and Human Transformation," seeks to do what Dr. Carl Sagan (and many others in a variety of fields) began with his work on "Cosmos." Educating the public at large about basic scientific issues affecting or shaping the lives of humanity is an undeniably important task, but more often than not, most programs these days get caught up in gimmicks or merely present information dryly as facts to absorb. This is not the case in "Journey of the Universe" a 57-minute film originally broadcast on public television; instead Dr. Swimme and crew take the basic idea of presenting information about the earth at large and taking the key next step in any educational presentation: asking the viewers/learners to critically think or at least ponder next-level questions based on the cold hard "facts."
"Journey of the Universe" feels very similar in presentation to an episode of "Cosmos," and while it never reaches the depth of a "Cosmos" episode, the amount of ground it covers in less than an hour is astonishing. Dr. Swimme is a host both easy to understand and connect to, due in no short part to his usage of metaphors both visual and non-visual. Human beings and human nature are underlying themes in the program, but the transitions between concepts never feel stilted nor does a solitary agenda feel forced, nor should one be expected from objective educational programming in the first place. The breadth of concepts explored can be downright overwhelming but the transitions and connections are by and large finely crafted. There are however, some issues with editing that made a few conceptual leaps feel stilted as if there was information being missed, gone for creative reasons or time constraints.
Dr. Swimme's Ph.D. work in singularity theory comes across strongly as he takes evolution to a universal scale, attempting to show basic ideas that persist at all levels of the universe, from the organization of our solar system, to the ingenious metaphor connecting an egg to the physical structure of our very planet. Where the series did begin to lose me, was in its latter segments that bring in ideas of stewardship and the idea (or at least, in my interpretation) of morality being a somewhat evolutionary concept. Although Swimme never takes a religious stance nor blatantly references intelligent design, I could see a viewer reading (perhaps, very incorrectly) between the lines and missing the earnest message the program has to offer. While I had stated previously a solid agenda never felt forced, I should clarify that the basic idea of respecting and protecting our environment is an agenda the program does offer, Swimme hints earlier at the very concept of self-preservation being built into the earth as a system itself, making the concept presented less a choice and more instinctual. Abstract? Yes. Controversial? Perhaps. Any way you cut it, "Journey of the Universe" offers some enlightening, educated ideas for the most part.
On a wholly technical level, the program mixes stunning imagery with carefully crafted narration. The host segments never feel overly intrusive, putting Swimme into nature himself and the only real complaint is a production value that feels like it was pushing its budget, previously mentioned editing hiccups, and an overall sense that the 57-minute runtime wants to lead to something more or is even the backbone for a possible miniseries, that doesn't exist, but perhaps should. Taking into account the philosophical discussions raised towards the end of the program, "Journey of the Universe" is a worthy investment on one's time, even if you should chose to shut it off once the singular evolution ideas take a backseat towards environmentalism, although as brief as the program is, Swimme nor his concepts never wear out their welcome.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer sports natural colors, strong detail, and little if any digital artifacting. There is a seamlessness between original footage shot for the series of nature and the host segments, which in these types of programs can sometimes look "off" visually. The only place the image suffers is a few usages of what appears to stock footage.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 English audio track is definitely overkill for a program of this nature, with the generic score only getting the real benefit of the surrounds. The sound mix overall, is competently handled. An English 2.0 track is also included, as well as English and Spanish subtitles are included.
Dr. Brian Swimme deserves tremendous credit for getting people thinking about their own place in the universe as well as how basic scientific concepts are prevalent throughout history and will persist into the future. Some may target unfair ire at the "humanist" philosophy the show progresses towards, but the fact is there's no political agenda nor religious agenda backing it; Swimme's concepts are all directed towards making life on this earth more bearable through informing humanity of the wonders surrounding their own existence. Recommended.