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NOVA: Fractals - Hunting the Hidden Dimension

WGBH // Unrated // March 10, 2009
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Nick Hartel | posted March 22, 2009 | E-mail the Author
THE PROGRAM

Chances are you've seen one and you just didn't realize it. Fractals are most recognized as a series of circular shapes with a border surrounded by jagged "tail-like" objects. NOVA's episode, "Fractals: Hunting the Hidden Dimension" is a quite interesting fifty minute look at the topic.

The program, aimed at the average viewer does a fine job of explaining the background of fractals, first by beginning with the story of Pixar co-founder, Loren Carpenter's work at Boeing, developing 3D terrain from scratch using fractals. From there the program starts at the beginning with an introduction to Benoit Mandelbrot and his revolutionary work. The explanations are full of solid factual information but never talk above the level of a viewer who has some understanding of basic mathematical principles. Once the concept is presented the program spends the rest of the time showing how prevalent the fractal is in life.

For a program about a mathematical concept, "Fractals" is very engaging, showing how the process was applied to special effects as far back as the Genesis planet from "Star Trek II" all the way to the spectacular finale on Mustafar in "Star Wars: Episode III." I found myself astonished at how fractals were the source of the lava in constant motion and action during the Obi-Wan/Anakin fight. What is more amazing is when the program delves into practical applications such as cell phone antennas, and eventually the human body.

For the average person who enjoys watching NOVA or other science related programs, even on a sporadic basis, "Fractals" will prove to be a very worthwhile experience. The program is well produced, integrating talking head interviews (including some with Mandelbrot himself) with standard "in the field" footage. The structure of the program is very logical and never finds itself jumping around without direction. In simplest terms, this is a program as elegant as the designs it focuses on.




THE DVD

The Video

The program is presented in 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen and aside from some subtle, but regular edge enhancement, the main program is very nice looking. The colors are rich, which is important when focusing on the designs created by the Mandelbrot set and other fractal designs. Archive footage ranges from excellent (such as clips from "Star Wars: Episode III" to less than average (brief stock footage). To be honest, I was very shocked to see such a good transfer for a science television show and if this is standard for NOVA, I will definitely take a look at their other programs.

The Audio

Like the transfer, I was also a bit shocked by the quality of the audio. An English surround track comes across as very clear but front heavy as expected from an informational program. An alternate descriptive audio track and English captions are available for the hard of hearing and visually impaired.

The Extras

The disc's lone extra is a PDF file accessible by DVD-ROM on a computer featuring a few lessons for classroom teachers to use when showing this video in class. As an educator myself, I feel this is a great extra, but to the average person, it's something that will never get looked at.




Final Thoughts

For the average person, "Fractals" should provide some astonishment as it makes mathematical sense of everyday parts of life, ranging from heartbeats to the shape of coastlines. Engaging speakers and a well-paced running time prevent it from being tedious and the topic is fascinating enough that some viewers may want to take a second viewing. For a classroom teacher, this is a remarkable program to show in a math class and with the addition of some post-program activities, it's well worth picking up. It also doesn't hurt that the disc sports audio and video a notch above what is expected from educational programming. Highly Recommended.

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C O N T E N T

V I D E O

A U D I O

E X T R A S

R E P L A Y

A D V I C E
Highly Recommended

E - M A I L
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