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3.9 out of 5 stars32
3.9 out of 5 stars
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on 26 February 2010
Format: Blu-rayVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
O.k. - let's start with the contents:

Disc 1 - Alien Planets, Cosmic Holes, Mysteries of the Moon, The Milky Way, Alien Moons.
Disc 2 - Dark Matter, Astrobiology, Space Travel, Supernovas.
Disc 3 - Constellations, Unexplained Mysteries, Cosmic Collisions, Colonizing Space, Nebulas.
Disc 4 - Wildest Weather in the Cosmos, Biggest Things in Space, Gravity, Cosmic Apocalypse, Bonus: Backyard Astronomers.
Soundtrack - stereo English. Options for English sub-titles.

The menu system makes it easy to navigate between each episode and within each episode to particular chapters. The format of the chapters changes a bit about half way through, becoming rather less obtrusive.

Each episode is about 45 minutes long so, with the bonus material, that is over 14 hours of programmes.

What's it like? Well, there's a bit near the beginning of The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy where the Book is telling us about Space:

"Space," it says, "is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly hugely mindbogglingly big it is. I mean you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space, LISTEN!" and so on..."

And so on. Yes, well...this series is pretty much in the same vein. Which is not necessarily a criticism. It's just that I found it a bit exhausting after a while.

The series relies pretty heavily on computer graphics, which makes me wonder why they released it on blu-ray. Blu-ray is wonderful for nature shots, cityscapes, people, but computer graphics are relatively straight forward and so don't, to my mind, really benefit from the added definition of blu-ray.

Still, where there are 'real' images, these are pretty stunning. That's partly why my favourite episodes were the ones about Alien Moons (i.e. moons of planets in our solar system) and Nebulas (some stunning pics from Hubble, the NASA Spitzer Infrared telescope, amongst others). I also loved the last episode - talking about Cosmological Decades, the Second Law of Thermodynamics and the ultimate heat death of the universe always sends shivers down my spine!

There is a large array of eminent scientists from a variety of US universities (for example: the charming Beth Biller - a Goth fire dancing planetologist from Hawaii University, the cuddly Neil deGrasse Tyson, the perpetually enthusiastic Alex Filippenko of the University of California, Berkeley, the always worth watching Michio Kaku to name but a few), NASA and JPL, plus a couple of Brits and Germans. But there's no Alan Guth or Martin Rees.

It all moves along at a really cracking pace and this is one of the things that got me down after a while. Talking heads are never on-screen for more than 5 seconds (if that), the camera is continuously zooming in and out or panning, the soundtrack is ceaselessly whooshing or booming and the narrative contains a little too much hyperbole for my taste. :-)

Saying all that, it is still a great deal of fun. It is definitely not as detailed as the BBC's 'The Planets'; it's rather more like 'The Complete Cosmos - The Solar System / Discovery Into Deep Space'.

The Bonus material - 'Backyard Astronomers' - basically consists of a number of little summaries of what may be seen in the night sky each month throughout the year. I imagine this could be rather useful to new or would-be astronomers.

It's an enjoyable introduction to the field. It is a bit breathless and 'gee whizz' and it doesn't have the weight of most BBC science docs but for someone developing an interest in astronomy and cosmology, I would really recommend it.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 16 March 2010
Format: Blu-rayVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I had thought that I would be the ideal audience for this series; I enjoy scientific documentaries in general and in particular those covering astrophysics. The Universe Season 2 is not all that fresh, originally airing in 2007-2008, but I had hoped to learn something new in watching it, or at least be entertained by some nice visuals.

Sadly, things didn't go as well as I'd hoped. The writers appear to think that their subject matter is inherently boring for most people, so they have tried to dress it up and make everything seem spectacular so that people will watch it. The result is a mishmash of sound bites and dramatic phrases loosely relevant to each of the selected subjects. If you love adjectives like "huge", "monstrous", "destructive", "terrifying" and so forth, then this is a series for you (the script must contain as many exclamation points as some letters). These are usually combined with chains of animations of things exploding or zooming or otherwise generally flashing and zipping around. And just to make sure, everything is accompanied by loud, dramatic music, just to make sure that you get the message that this is captivating stuff.

The annoying thing is that some of the subjects are genuinely interesting, but these are rarely pursued in enough depth. We're usually fed banal analogies that cover the generalities but little more. The producers obviously consider the details beyond the intellectual capacity or interest threshold of the audience and rush on to the next thing that can potentially explode or destroy things.

Being released on Blu-Ray disc and boasting "strikingly realistic computer re-creations", I had also expected a lot more of the visuals. Instead they are a real hotchpotch, ranging from nasty animations made from photo overlays (with stars showing through the shadowed parts of planets), to some very nice (but extremely rare) sequences obviously coming out of some university's super-computer simulations. More often than not you get to watch one of a handful of sequences, apparently made for this series, that are used over and over as fill-in. For example, there's a sequence made concerning cyanobacteria creating the oxygen on Earth that is used every time bacteria is discussed (in any context). An animation of a pulsar is even used to illustrate emissions made by extra-terrestrial civilizations! You can also expect to see an animation of a star exploding at least once a minute, whatever the subject. Towards the end I stopped watching and just listened most of the time since the images rarely illustrate what is being talked about in any case.

Finally, there are some episodes (thankfully in the minority) that just don't contain enough material. These are brought up to the 45 minute running time by being filled with fluff. This can be in many forms, from endless recaps of what's already been covered to long, drawn-out explanations of really basic phenomenon (e.g. a long, excruciating description of how the phases of the moon are the result of its shadow. Puh-lease!).

If you're new to astronomy/astrophysics, then don't be too put off by my comments as this series is more likely targeting you than me. It attempts to show people that this really is an interesting topic, but can be a bit over-the-top in its technique. It must work, though, because there are already 4 seasons, proving that people are watching it. However, if you already have some grasp of these subjects, there must be better material out there to watch.

It's great to see that people are making shows about the universe and I hope they continue, but I can't help feeling disappointed by the result.
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on 25 November 2009
This is a brilliant series, you will learn so much about the forces out there and you will develop an appreciation for the true neighbourhood our tiny little speck of a world is living in with the spectacular visuals, fascinating analysis and illuminating experts interviewed. I don't think there's ever been such a complete series about the Universe that analyses all sorts of fascinating subjects about it in such complete depth, but there is one small gripe with this DVD release. I began watching this series on the History Channel UK and the narrator is localised for the UK, and he does an excellent job. Unfortunately even though this is the Region 2 edition and therefore released for Europe you don't get him, instead you get the original US narrator, it just doesn't feel the same, it feels a bit more sensational and not as authoritative a narration because of this. So I would ask them on any subsequent releases to include the UK narration version at least as a separate audio track then the set would be perfect.
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VINE VOICEon 18 March 2010
Format: Blu-rayVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This exciting looking 4 disk Blu-Ray `festival of the Universe' may appear promising but soon becomes tiresome. Clearly it could (and should) have been crammed onto 1 disk.
With quality computer graphics and excellent 3D sound quality it is a shame the subject matter is presented in the style of one of those rotating videos you find in the darkened corner of a museum. You know, the one you watch because you want a seat for a few minutes.

Whether it's Cosmic Holes, Constellations or Space Travel - this production manages to remove any 'atmosphere' of excitement or fascination and instead we are treated to endless "wow, big, amazing, look here". One Amazon reviewer, G. Monshaw (USA) accurately describes this as: repetitive, childish and padded.

To be fair, there are some truly interesting elements, such as the search for new planets and the pioneering work of Astronomers. However these odds and ends are hidden amongst computer graphics showing that the sun is `very big'.

Clearly this is made for the American commercial market, literally non-stop "coming up next"...."stay seated for x,y,z". Most bizarre is the fact that even the so-called experts appeared to be talking to an audience of ten year olds.

The final straw was the footage of `men on Mars' (earth desert research stations). There seemed to be a desire to maintain the idea that we were watching scientists at work...on Mars. Please.

I purchased a new Blu-Ray player primarily to watch this. A sort of `test piece'. I sat down with a few family members and even dimmed the lights in excitement. Nobody commented, not a word was spoken in praise. The BBC do this kind of subject matter in a far superior way was the only comment.
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on 8 March 2010
Format: Blu-rayVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Covering over four discs and running at almost 15 hours, the Second Season of The Universe reminded me of "Watchmen": as you skim through each episode, you get a little teaching, a good deal of speculation, a splash of science fiction, and some fascinating images to look at! The areas covered in the 18 episodes included in this Blu-ray box set are as follows:

Disc 1
* "Alien Planets"--the possibility of planets outside out solar system
* "Cosmic Holes"--the concept of worm holes and their value as a form of time/space travel
* "Mysteries of the Moon"--an overview of how our closest cosmic neighbor affects the Earth
* "The Milky Way"--an exploration of the galaxy that houses our home planet
* "Alien Moons"--a look at the moons within our solar system, other than ours

Disc 2
* "Dark Matters"--it makes up 96% of our Universe and yet we know little about it--until now
* "Astrobiology"--a discussion of the possibility of life on other planets
* "Space Travel"--new theories on how we could conceivable travel around the cosmos
* "Supernovas"--the death of a star is discussed

Disc 3
* "Constellations"--why some stars come together to form "patterns"
* "Unexplained Mysteries"--theories like 'life on mars' and time travel are dissected
* "Cosmic Collisions"--when worlds collide, so to speak
* "Colonizing Space"--beyond sci-fi, how to live in space
* "Nebulas"--the fascinating, often gorgeous cosmic gas clouds are explored

Disc 4
* "Wildest Weather in the Cosmos"--which planet has the best climate, and which has the worst
* "Biggest Things in Space"--items that pale in comparison to our own imagination
* "Gravity"--the most basic of scientific properties is explained
* "Cosmic Apocalypse"--it's the end of everything as we know it, and there's little we can do to stop it

Truthfully, I can't say I'll ever be as totally captivated by the universe as I am of planet Earth itself, but this is an exceptional series that gives documentary fans a good overview of the universe. As a Blu-ray release, `The Universe: Season Two' may lack a mind-blowing video transfer, a basic sound track and significant lack of Blu-Ray extra's, but it still presents one of The History Channel's most fascinating series with a commendable high-def presentation.
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VINE VOICEon 23 February 2010
Format: Blu-rayVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
When I first watched it, I was underwhelmed. I guess after watching shows like Life, Earth etc by the BBC with its breath taking images and high Quality production (assuming you are watching it on blu-ray or HDTV), I was to be honest expecting something more from this series.

I honestly do not see any real reason to choose this blu-ray version over the DVD. This is predominately because the clips they play in the show vary in quality (like VHS videos, DVD videos and some old archive videos), none of which naturally take advantage of blu-ray. The only time you can really see the quality of blu-ray is when they interview people, and the CGI.
Which by the way isn't great or as high quality as those we've come to expect from the awarding winning stuff from the BBC.

However in terms of information, which is the most important bit really, I have to admit it's pretty interesting, however there are times where it's just boring or goes off at a tangent, to the point where you're not sure why they included that segment.

The series manages to answer some very interesting questions, for example on the episode of the moon, they ask questions like why the colour changes and why we only see one side of the moon.
In addition, this feels like a direct transfer from high definition TV to blu-ray. Why you ask? Because you can make out clearly where the video would normally cut for adverts.

Is it worth buying? Well if you really want it, get the DVD, unless you really want the blu-ray version.
If you want something very informative for the kids to watch instead of playing with their playstation's and gameboy's, then I can recommend this.
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on 5 November 2008
I ordered this series with the thought 'what more can they do?' I seen it all in season one, it cannot top that. Was I wrong!
It was even better.

To realize that the universe is about 13.7 billion years old, and so vast, that it's totally beyond our comprehension and still expanding. A truly unimaginable thought, that.
There are so many amazing episodes, one of which shows the largest objects in space. They are seriously big, like the so-called "cosmic web" of galaxies, which is a hundred million billion times bigger than Earth. Then there's the fascinating Lunar transient phenomena, the pulsar planets, the hot Jupiters, the weather in space, dark matter, dark energy, and much more. Really mind-boggling stuff, this!
For instance it's estimated that the impact of the asteroid that landed on the Yucatan Peninsula about 65 million years ago, wiping out the dinosaurs. This was equal to that of dropping a Hiroshima-sized atomic bomb every second for 140 years!
Another mind-boggling thought, where did we really come from... (I'd still like to go to heaven eventually:)

This series had me riveted to my screen. The computer-generated imagery and other effects is so realistic. It makes one feel as if one is truly there experiencing this phenomenal aspects. And it's explained so simply that anyone can understand it.
My favourite episodes are:
Alien Planets, Dark Matter, Astrobiology
Space Travel,Unexplained Mysteries &
Colonizing Space.

A truly awesome series! Enjoyed every bit of it.
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VINE VOICEon 23 April 2010
Format: Blu-rayVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
With the recent hype over Brian Cox's show 'Wonders of the Solar System', and the fact that the program was not yet out, I decided to invest in this little treasure. Having not seen the first season, I was unsure of what to expect, was it going to be a complex and deeply scientific investigation, or just light Neanderthal T.V. looking at the stars and saying how pretty they are? The T.V. series beautifully merges the two to create a program that is perfect for me, a Politics student with only a basic understanding of astrophysics (I say basic, I know what a star is), as well as my brother, who is a physics genius.

The HD aspect adds a lot to the experience, as you can only imagine space can only (currently) be done justice on the small screen with the use of BLU-RAY. Definitely one to invest in!
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Format: Blu-rayVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The documentary series is excellent. It moves at a very fast narrative and visual pace, which might not suit everyone, because it does literally throw a lot of information at you in each episode. Having said that it's done in a very clever way and once you get used to the style, the information is there and it sticks in your mind very well. The picture and sound quality is good, but given the capability of Blu-ray full HD, I think the images could have been sharper when made - but this could be due to the fact that when it was actually produced they were not thinking in terms of HD broadcast. So although the programmes show in 1080/24p blu-ray format on screen, compared to other 1080/24p blu-ray sets I have this is not the best of them. So that's why it's a 4 stars instead of 5, from me.
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on 4 February 2010
Useful as a primer. If you know nothing about astronomy and space this is informative. It is aimed at 8 to 17 year olds. The language is sensationalist and presupposes a short attention span. If like myself you are more used to the intellectual style of BBC's Sky At Night or the various Horizon documentaries on various aspects of the subject I suggest you avoid this little can be learned from this series. This applies to series 1 as well though to a lesser extent.
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