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on 17 October 2010
I was bought this as a present, and I enjoyed it for the entertainment value, very much indeed. It is nicely presented and the Blu-Ray format does it no harm either, so for those reasons it would get five stars.

My personal caveat is that if you know even the most basic elements of astronomy, this DVD will tell you nothing at all that is new, instead it reads more like one scientists pursuit of the dream holiday, fully of whizzy activities that are supposed to enliven the message. Which is fine, if you don't already know the message! I've also been able to see Earth from 60,000 feet - albeit drinking a G&T at the time - so even the upper air parts of the documentary are somewhat familiar.

So, my background of a few decades of interest in the universe is not going to see this as revelatory, and although the graphics are a nice reinvention/re-visioning of what I already know, there is sometimes repetition and quite often the episodes cover similar ground (also a problem with "South Pacific", which repeats footage a little more often). For me, that knocks off a couple of points because the repetitions accumulate to a significant amount of time that could be used for wider issues, such as near-Earth asteroids, and perhaps digging in a little more on the problems of robotic space exploration (even "simple" things such as the time delay in commanding a distant probe to do something, and it actually receiving the command). I know the series is really just to expose the wonders of the solar system to people new to the topic, but a little more about the human ingenuity in devising explorers would have been enough to being it back up to 4 stars.

Don't get me wrong, the BBC are good at what they do, and not every programme will hit the mark for everybody, but they do tend to skim the surface of the subjects and end up somewhat as simple entertainment rather than the original notion of a "documentary" (I'd class it as lighter even than "popular science"). The redoubtable Patrick Moore would probably balk at explaining his subject so lightly, but I'd get a whole lot more from what he said - the problem is that the series would run to 24 disks. :)

For those people unfamiliar with our local patch in space, it is an easy 5 stars, and those folk have probably awarded it just that!

If you are buying this as a gift for someone who's "mad about space", I'd have to say "think carefully". How much do they already know? Are they already observing using a telescope? Can they name even just ten craters on the moon? Name the Galilean moons and know where they are (and even give a potted history of Galileo)? Know what the Oort cloud is? A Lagrange point? In other words, do they talk about deeper aspects already, in which case it might be better to look for something deeper, or simply something else.

If you're buying it for family entertainment and not everybody in the family is a propellerhead about astronomy, go for it, it's a nice introduction. The problem then is that for anyone that develops an interest in the subject, it will quickly become irrelevant.
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HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERon 23 March 2010
This is a superb series which graphically illustrates some of the high points of local cosmology. Each hour-long episode is visually striking and easily accessible for all ages. Presenter Prof Brian Cox never patronises the audience and has a special knack for explaining quite complex theories with real-life examples. There are five episodes in total, each one highlighting a different theme to explain some of the compelling forces at work in our solar system.
There isn't a dull moment in the whole series, and it avoids much of the over-blown drama and pointless repetition which can plague current popular science programmes. Mind you, at times it feels a little like you've tuned into an episode of Top Gear by mistake (!), with 4x4s in the Namib desert, jet fighters on the edge of space, skidoos across snow-scapes, and such. That's because Prof Cox visits a whole range of striking landscapes on Earth, to demonstrate that the same cosmic forces which have a profound effect across the universe are at work here.

`Wonders of the Solar System' features plenty of excellent visual stimulation and makes great use of CGI as well as plenty of original images from space probes (the sun rise from Mars is magnificent, and the rocks from the moon Titan are spookily familiar). The animations usefully demonstrate some of the trickier aspects of planetary geometry - for instance, I never realised quite how far over the earth tips on its axis which creates the seasons, and the graphic illustrated this perfectly.
Similarly, understanding how the magnetosphere protects the earth from the solar wind isn't exactly easy to picture from a wordy description, but the CGI showed it perfectly. The whole series has helped to expand my understanding of how the solar system was formed and is still changing, and there are plenty of little nuggets of new info in each episode - often fresh from whichever new probe has sent back data in recent years.

The series starts by studying the sun, the star at the heart of our solar system. Prof Cox immediately involves the viewer with a simple experiment to show how you can calculate the energy that the sun puts out using an umbrella and a can of water, and this is typical of how cosmic themes are grounded in earthy practicality throughout the series. This episode explains the cosmic coincidence which means we on earth can enjoy total solar eclipses, thanks to the size of the moon and its distance from us.
Prof Cox uses tornados to explain how the planets originally formed from clouds of dust and relates that to the rings of Saturn - again, there's some gorgeous imagery in this segment including genuine footage from the recent mission to Saturn's many moons. The pictures of the ice volcanoes erupting are amazing.
Another episode studies the atmosphere of planets and explains why Mercury doesn't have one; why Venus' is so thick, and why Earth's atmosphere is so important. (A great excuse for a trip in an English Electric Lightning jet fighter!). It also reveals the other body in our solar system which has a similar atmosphere to ours, and which also appears to have lakes and rivers on it. All through, the cosmological details is compared to similar settings on our world, making it easy to understand and visually exciting.
Size really matters when it comes to planets and another programme looks at planetary cores and how they differ, which is a great excuse to stand on the tallest mountain on earth and look at live volcanoes! One of the moons of Jupiter, which should be cold and dead, is actually home to extraordinary lakes of lava and giant volcanic eruptions. We also enjoy a great explanation about the chances of finding life on other planets (including a look at some of the truly alien life-forms here on earth). Prof Cox also reminds us that life evolves over geological time and that when change happens fast we tend to go extinct. But he doesn't labour the point.

All through this series you are swept along by Prof Cox's enthusiasm for the subject and his delight in each new discovery. If I have to criticise it for anything then it's for indulging so much in the terribly fashionable trend for science-by-globetrotting, but Prof Cox comes over as such a likeable guy that it's easy to forgive him.
The science is solid; the explanations are easily understood yet of enough depth to interest adults with a decent understanding of popular science. So this series should suit all ages of people with an interest in other planets, and it's very easy to recommend. I finally understand why most planets spin, and it's taken 42 years for that to sink in! Plus, the photos from the Mars rovers, showing their own tracks in the dust of another world, make me choke up every time I see them.
The Blu-Ray version will make the most of the graphics, too.
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on 17 January 2011
This was a present for my husband's birthday. He's been keen on Astronomy for the past 25 years and thought this would be a great gift. We started to watch it together. Professor Brian Cox has a lovely voice - completely drowned out by the background music - It's almost unwatchable
The BBC have got to realise that it's the programme content that that's importnat not the music that's so loud we have to put the sub-titles on to understand what's being said!
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on 28 January 2011
I have recently got into blu-ray documentaries as a way of passing time in an informative way and was buoyed very much by the almost unfailingly positive reviews of this product. I am by no means an expert on astronomy (I am in the 'interested but could do with finding out more' category). Unfortunately, I found out absolutely naff all new in this. When you have a presenter that speaks to the viewer as if they're five years old and tries to explain the solar system using condiments at a cafe table....I guess one shouldn't expect to be wowed by anything terribly profound. My main gripe about the presenter is that he is constantly trying his best to seem incredibly profound to provoke some kind of awe; the images and information given should by their nature be enough to provoke awe. You don't need a slightly wet Mancunian to do it for you. Against an earlier BBC documentary called 'The Planets' (now that WAS factual and informative. It interviewed various US and Soviet pioneers in the space race and hearing THEM tell the story was indeed awe inspiring), it was pure bubble gum.
I also found the way the episodes were arranged was very muddled. Quite unscientific, you might say. Topics overlapped - one episode called Life and Death, the next called Aliens....which of course also deals with life and death.Given that there was only 5 episodes, such sloppiness is unnecessary. There didn't seem to be any episodic nature the way the series unfolded. Who made him a professor, Ronald McDonald?
Maybe I just blame him for being in that floppy middle-class dullard group D:Ream who made the stomach churning Things Can Only Get Better, the one that Tony Blair used to hoodwink a nation into believing his sincerity.In that case, Brian Cox is very clever indeed, the bastard!
The two stars are actually for the visuals which have come on in leaps and bounds in the HD Blu Ray world. This I can't take away from it.
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VINE VOICEon 29 March 2010
This is a rare example of a specialist topic given a mass appeal by the engaging voice accent and manner of Professor Brian Cox who manages to explain the Solar system as a natural phenomenon with numerous simple examples

It has some stunning computer generated graphics combined with real images and pictures

Traveling to many location over the planet including Ethiopia , India and Hawaii the producers found many places that resemble locations in other planets of the solar system .

The soundtrack is a mixture of dreamy and indie music that contributes to the experience of space travel .

The series contains five episodes, each of which focuses on an aspect of the Solar System and features a 'wonder'.

1-Empire of the sun

A great introduction to the series that illustrates how the formation and behavior of the Sun affects each planet in the Solar System .The graphics of the formation of the sun are truly spectacular.

2-Order Out of Chaos
The second episode explores the Rings of Saturn and explains their differences and the effect of gravity on their formation. The pictures from Cassini add a wonderful touch to the stunning graphics.

3-The Thin Blue Line
The third episode looks at the atmosphere of Earth and that of Titan moon in Saturn. A very relevant program that touches on how fragile is our existence and how much we own to our atmosphere.

4-Dead or Alive
The fourth episode looks at the size of planets, volcanoes, and the moon Io ,and how size and position in the solar system determines if live can develop in a planet. The images form the Erta Ale volcano in Ethiopia are a great example of the conditions in other places of the solar system.

The program covers life surviving in extreme environments in our planet, and how the search for life on other planets follows the search for water. This last episode is the most interesting of them all as it asks a couple of very interesting questions ,Are we alone in the Universe ? What if we are ? What if we aren't ?

A great achievement for the BBC
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on 17 September 2010
OK. I do admit I didn't watch it all so far, beause I couldn't.
You would be hard pressed to find a scene where Brian Cox's gleeing face is not in the picture and doesn't come back before you count to 2o. Let me asure you, I tried it many times. And he smiles as if to say: "Look ma' I'm on TV now."
Even in the impressive scene with the aurora borealis, where I really hoped he could do without, it was all too tempting to stand in the picture again.
And the cutting, I guess, was done by his wife. Even when he is talking to other scientist his face is cut into the picture instead of his convesational partner who has something interesting to say that very moment.
As I said, this doesn't sum up the content of this production but for sure soured it for me.
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on 20 June 2011
Of all the recent Dumbed Down BBC 'Science' programs this is the most disappointing and insulting. At one point Brian Cox is relating an interesting (if rather basic) equation for determining the amount of energy that falls on the Earth from the Sun and halfway through relating the numbers involved Cox's voice fades away and the music (yet again) swells to drown him out.

Compair a similar moment in Carl Sagen's wonderful 'Cosmos' where he discusses simple mathematics and how to conceptualise vast numbers (he moves from powers through a googol to a googolplex without blinking) and you see just how Brian Cox thinks you're stupid, unable to understand Mathematics or Cosmology.

Rather like the book that span off this series this DVD is a collection of pretty pictures with little or no explanatory text.

Avoid and buy the BBC series 'The Planets,' and 'Cosmos' plus a few recent books of your own choice to understand the most recent developments in Cosmology.
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on 9 February 2011
This programme is seriously lacking structure and the presenter is awful. The professor may be a decent scientist, but is without any doubt the most boring person I've ever seen on TV. I'm not exaggerating, unfortunately. His thoughts are simple, his language - limited to 500 words, perhaps less. He is constantly repeating himself, using again and again the same expressions, the same words. His attempts to create an atmosphere of excitement and enthusiasm about the cosmic wonders fall flat either because of his very poor teaching skills or because his looks and personality (or the absence of it) would be a lot more suitable for a teenage boy band, not a science presenter. Combine this with his omnipresence, due to the producer's decision to create a programme not about the universe itself, but rather about Prof. Cox's personal exploration of the Solar System, and the result is one spectacularly disappointing documentary. The viewer is constantly offered to watch scenes with Brian Cox driving a car, sitting on the beach, in a plane, watching solar eclipse and doing I don't know what else, turning the programme into a film about Prof. Brian Cox, who happens to be interested in the Solar System, not the Solar System itself. The actual topic is forced to take back seat. As a result I have learned a lot about the professor, but hardly anything about the Solar System. While this structure is not unique for this particular BBC documentary, it has been applied to an appalling effect here. Another reviewer was right to point out, that an older BBC series - The Planets - was excellent and by far superior to Brian Cox's version.
In summary this a very basic, painfully boring and barely watchable documentary!
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on 5 May 2010
Without knowing too much about the technicalities, the title is coded in 50HZ, so despite being 1080i it will not play on a US PS3. 2Entertain / BBC Wordwide really need to sort this out - "Life" is the same. The content is fantastic though (when viewed on another BluRay player).
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on 7 March 2011
....from the presenter.

He doesnt seem to either understand fundamental aspects such as time or conservation of matter.

Or he explains it badly.

Either way a great subject - but wrecked by the presenter

PS. Make the music louder!

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