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"The journey you are about to take comes courtesy of America's orbiting telescope."
DVD ReviewCountless science fiction films have purported to take us to the far-flung reaches of outer space, to show us the visions of art directors and special effects supervisors of what distant stars and planets might look like. In The Universe, the debut release from Tim Tully and Kathy Marty's Universe Productions, we actually have the opportunity to see for ourselves what objects like nebulae and star clusters really look like (no special effects here), courtesy of NASA's orbiting telescopes and satellites.
Using collected images from NASA's Hubble telescope, SOHO (Solar and Heliospheric Observatory) and TRACE (Transition Region and Coronal Explorer), Tully and Marty have put together a seventy-minute celestial tour that begins at our sun, and slowly travels deeper into space to the "staggeringly ancient" edge of the universe. The presentation was so hypnotic that I had to keep reminding myself that the surreal beauty of these images represented something that was real, and not the speculative creation of some Hollywood effects wizard.
The Universe has two viewing options: either with a nearly wall-rattling narration by the deep-voiced Timothy Enos, or with an optional music-only track, featuring an original score by Paul D. Lehrman. The narration track does just what it should do, informs, and it does it quite well at that. The content is well beyond the "look at the pretty stars" variety, and easily a step or two below the dryness of an astronomy lecture. The details in the various images are explained, we're told in understandable terms what it is we are seeing, and there is enough astronomical terminology thrown around to make it feel like you're learning something. The score-only track is the choice for those that either don't feel like absorbing any knowledge, or if you're just in the mood to be numbed by the beauty of deep space, like you did in college when you stared at your Roger Dean-designed album covers while listening to Yes.
Another viewing option, strictly less cerebral but just as enjoyable, is one that my daughter Sammie and I developed, which was similar to playing the "what does that cloud look like" game. It was weird and bizarre how many of these outer space images looked like other things, and some of them were like that venerable optical illusion of the old woman/young woman. The presence of an ornately decked out Barbie Doll is clearly visible in the Carina Nebula, or the evil, staring eyes that are part of two spiral galaxies seemed ominous, at best. We saw creepy faces, seahorses, a rubber duck, and even Ursula from The Little Mermaid. Who ever said there isn't life beyond Earth has obviously never watched The Universe.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A
Image Transfer Review: The Universe is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, and except for chapter headings, the material consists entirely of images culled from Hubble, SOHO, TRACE and other orbiting telescopes. Image detail and quality is very sharp, with an array of beautiful, swirling colors. No compression issues or artifacts were evident.
Image Transfer Grade: C+
Audio Transfer Review: Audio is presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround, and is available either with a narration track, or with just the original orchestral score by Paul D. Lehrman. The narration features the booming and resonant voice of Timothy Enos, and as he talks about nebulae and star clusters his words really rumble fairly deep out of the center channel. I did notice some popping of the letter "p" as he spoke, but the track is quite full, and makes solid use of the rears for score elements. If you happen to opt for the music-only track, the rears still get a workout, though the center channel is largely silent.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 14 cues and remote access
The disc is cut into 14 chapters, and also includes a cool-looking Windows screensaver made up of interstellar images for those of you with DVD-ROM drives.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsIt's rare when you can be awed and educated at the same time, but The Universe does just that. This tour of galaxies and stars consists entirely of images collected from NASA's assorted orbiting telescopes, and the result is as informative as it is beautiful.
This one is an easy recommendation for fans of the REAL deep space.
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