NOVA: Earth From Space
PBS // Unrated // $29.99 // April 30, 2013
Review by Randy Miller III | posted April 16, 2013
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Graphical Version

Most first-time viewers would expect a documentary called "Earth From Space" to just show satellite imagery of our home planet. Such a description would only scratch the surface of this NOVA production, which shows us how temperatures, water vapor, wind currents, volcanic eruptions and more can change areas of the planet thousands of miles away, or even regulate global temperatures. Essentially, Earth From Space multiplies "the butterfly effect" substantially, attempting to back it up with proof in the form of 120 Earth-observing NASA satellites capable of seeing data patterns far beyond human capability.

On paper, it sounds like a lot to process in two hours...but for the most part, Earth From Space presents these findings in an accessible, entertaining format. Through the use of raw, compiled satellite data, CGI simulations representing the same and several interviews with NASA scientists, even casual viewers will likely be fascinated with most of this information. The seemingly chaotic presence of disasters is simply presented as one part of a much larger cycle. From monsoon and hurricane formations---in this case, Katrina is used as a primary reference point---to discoveries related to the ocean floor and seasonal brine production in Antarctica, Earth From Space contains no shortage of interesting tidbits, as well as knowledge that just might change the way we understand the world we're only a small part of.

Speaking of which, the information presented during Earth From Space effectively dwarfs the audience, suggesting that we're just observers of (rather than active participants in) these weather formations and natural phenomena. Terms like "global warming" aren't a major part of Earth From Space's agenda, which takes more of a distanced, third-party stance than your average environmentally-minded documentary. Though portions of this film are grouped together rather clumsily---giving Earth From Space more of an kaleidoscopic, patchwork narrative---the total package is decidedly more than the sum of its parts.

Presented by PBS as separate DVD and Blu-ray releases, NOVA's Earth From Space doesn't offer much more than an HD broadcast, as evidenced by underwhelming A/V quality and a complete lack of extras. Still, even the most casual viewers should find this forward-thinking documentary worth a look.

Quality Control Department

Video & Audio Quality

At times, this 1080i presentation of Earth From Space looks fantastic...but other times? Not so much. Framed at 1.78:1, the film's tricky source material often encounters plenty of roadblocks that haven't been avoided. From jagged edges to interlacing and even a number of compression artifacts, a number of sequences don't look much better than your average DVD presentation. Even the interview footage often looks soft and more than a little smeary. Yet other sequences look fantastic, including international landmarks, cityscapes and other real-world footage. I'll admit that much of this material looks good for what it is: composite satellite imagery, graphics representing the same and the occasional bit of lower-resolution stock footage. Still, Earth From Space doesn't represent a massive step up from standard definition, so those expecting a substantial boost for the extra $5 MSRP will likely be disappointed.

DISCLAIMER: These promotional images are strictly decorative and do not represent Blu-Ray's native 1080p resolution.

The audio aims a bit lower and mostly hits the mark. Presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, this stereo presentation features strong channel separation and a relatively wide soundstage at times. Jay Sanders' narration, sound effects, interview monologues and dramatic music cues don't fight for attention, though I'll admit that a full 5.1 mix would've added a bit more impact to certain sequences. But there's still very little to complain about overall, and we even get optional English subtitles for the main feature.

Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging

Earth From Space's plain-wrap menu interface is easy to navigate and features quick response time and a minimum of pre-show clutter. This one-disc release is packed inside a standard Eco-lite keepcase and includes no slipcover or inserts. It's locked for Region A playback and there are no bonus features.

Final Thoughts

NOVA's Earth From Space is more compelling than its bland title suggests, as this collection of graphics, satellite imagery and interviews does a fine job of showing us the cause and effect of weather patterns, natural disasters and other secrets within "the blue marble". Although the presentation is choppy and episodic, there's a lot to digest here and most of it goes down quite easily. Due to the marginal bump in A/V quality, this Blu-ray feels less impressive than its technical specs imply. However, the fundamental strengths of Earth From Space make it worth seeking out in one format or another. Recommended.

Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.

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