By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
One of the best documentaries ever made to encourage exploration of the self and the world around us, as humankind, is Cosmos: A Personal Journey. Carl Sagan had an exuberance that was infectious and it encouraged many to pursue an education into the sciences. To think that it can be followed up by a sequel, Cosmos: A Space Time Odyssey, has to be a challenge. Can anyone demonstrate the same zest that Sagan had as a presenter? Who is able to do the job? Patrick Stewart, the man who came to fame as the Captain of the Enterprise in Star Trek: The Next Generation or Michio Kaku, a theoretical physicist who has presented many an invigorating documentary about the universe around us, are very capable.
Both are compelling figures who can do a great job at being the presenter for Cosmos, but instead, viewers get Neil deGrasse Tyson, the man who declared that Pluto is no longer a planet. It’s an exo-planet and he received a lot of flak from children asking why. He says get over it, and some people never will. If this planetoid in Earth’s solar system had a sentience of its own, perhaps it might bite Tyson in the butt.
This probably will not stop him or the producers of the sequel from continuing forth. The Space Time Odyssey is a wonderful watch. It captures some of the vibrance Sagan had in talking about how vast the cosmos is and in saying we are nothing but specks in a multiverse. The arrangement of the computer generated scenes to compare that what elements from Nature hints at how everything is related. That makes for a great visual message to marvel at, because it can get viewers thinking: is everything that exists in the grande universe nothing but specks of a different whole?
The simple image of a galaxy changing to become an eye says it all. A careful observer will notice that the teardrop shaped spaceship is much like the Slave-1 from Star Wars and the bridge DeGrasse stands in looks somewhat like the Enterprise-D (minus the navigation panels) from Star Trek: The Next Generation. As for whether or not that was intentional by the set designers, that’s hard to tell. Most of the imagery presented was rendered in a computer to give it a futuristic look.
Even the animated sequences that blends a simple paper animation style with medieval illustrations pops out. This segment of the first episode “Standing Up in the Milky Way” shows how Giordano Bruno fought against a religious system who were not free thinkers. This philosopher and astrologer had ideas which evolved from Copernicus’ ideas. The sun was at the “center” of the known universe, and not the Earth. Both were branded as heretics, and it would take a renaissance before their views would get accepted by a world at large.
For this series, it will no doubt gain a new following since it enlightens viewers to characters who are not as widely known from history. It draws from Sagan’s legacy to bring an older audience in, but for new, unless they were groomed early on to study astrophysics, they may not know who Sagan is. Today’s programs are flowered with Sigrid Close, Kaku and DeGrasse narrating most of the documentaries of today. DeGrasse had done more than his fair share of appearances for a modern audience, but the spark he has for the material in A Spacetime Odyssey is not quite there. He has big shoes to fill, and the space his presence has to expand into will hopefully round itself out in episodes to come.
3 Stars out of 5