PictureThe Universe comes to Blu-ray presented in 1080i High Definition, and as documentaries go - whilst (as with the content) it is not quite the quality of the likes of The Blue Planet and Planet Earth - it looks pretty special. The content is variable: from clean, newly-shot interview snippets and pristine top-quality CG effects to limited effects sequences (which look pretty dodgy), stock news footage (that looks terrible) and real footage of planets and stars (which, understandably, looks pretty bad too). Thus the detail levels can vary too, but at its best (i.e. with the new footage) we get excellent clarity, little softness, no grain and no noticeable defects. The colour scheme is extremely broad - this is not a show to dull down the scenarios, and everything is bright oranges, yellows, reds and blues. Black levels are good, allowing the starry night sky to look amazing, and our Solar System to look utterly enthralling, only as it should do. A difficult video presentation to score, this is a solid rendition and certainly presents the material it has in the best possible way, but is also occasionally extremely limited by said material.
SoundOn the aural front we get a fairly basic 2-channel Dolby Digital mix to accompany the visuals. Whilst the dialogue (and this is, understandably, a dialogue-driven affair) is always clear and coherent, that American voice-over man playing the biggest part, there are plenty of interesting effects to add to the proceedings. Stars going supernova, asteroids hitting the planet, it all makes for lively aural events, and all the analogies used have similarly good effects - even the cringe-worthy rock concert analogy. The score is annoying as hell, constantly dramatic, making you feel like you are watching a 13-episode extended edition of an Emmerich disaster movie, every soundbite illustrated by some dramatic scoring that exaggerates the significance of the already overplayed visuals. With so many threats on offer, it is surprising that any of us ever go out of the house, and the score would have you believe that it really would be a danger to do so. Worse still, it is the most pervasive and intrusive element of the track, making it sometimes hard to concentrate on the information on offer, instead getting swept up in the unnecessary thrills suggested by the score. Still, notwithstanding the technical limitations of the track, or the imposing score, this is a decent enough presentation considering that we are talking about documentary material.
ExtrasAll we get here is the extended 14th episode, Beyond the Big Bang.
VerdictAlthough this was probably never going to be as good as The Blue Planet or Planet Earth because of the lack of real-life footage, this is still likely one of the best documentaries about our Universe that you could imagine. It may have far too many analogies, may not fully be aware of the audience range that it appears to be catering for, and there may be far too much fluff, padding and gimmicks in each and every episode, but overall you will still probably learn a fair amount from what is on offer here. Presented in basic 1080i video, with basic 2-channel audio and just an extended episode as the closest you could get to an 'extra', this Blu-ray set is nevertheless the best possible way of absorbing this interesting documentary and of learning more about the ever-expanding universe around us.
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