PictureThe second season of The Universe comes to Blu-ray presented with the same TV-standard 1080i High Definition rendition that viewers of the first season would be accustomed to. 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 still looks pretty special. The content is also 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 colours 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 Milky Way to look majestic, and our Solar System to look utterly enthralling, only as they 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 linear PCM mix to accompany the visuals. It's the same underwhelming mix that accompanied the first season, and whilst this dialogue-driven affair is like any other documentary in that it does not exactly need 5.1 surround sound, this is nothing more than a standard aural accompaniment. American voice-over man once again takes centre stage, and we get just as many exaggerated effects to illustrate the space noises (which are designed purely for aesthetically pleasing purposes as clearly sound waves cannot permeate with no atmosphere) - from stars turning into supernovas to celestial bodies colliding with maximum impact. Wildest Weather in the Cosmos is perhaps the most noisy episode, although Cosmic Apocalypse runs a strong second. Still, the annoying side of the score pervades this sophomore season as much as it did the first run, in that everything is made much more 'tense and dramatic' but feature-film style scoring that makes you think that something really, really thrilling is happening. Again, this is designed to aesthetically please the audience and, the reality is, it can get just plain irritating. Still, this is a perfectly acceptable aural presentation for a documentary, neither noteworthy nor a massive disappointment, just generally average for documentaries and only substandard in that it is clearly not something which shows of Blu-ray's potential in any way, shape or form.
ExtrasThe first season was pretty-much devoid of extras but for an extended 'special' episode, and that is exactly what they have done here, only the extra episode is a little different from the standard instalments. Entitled 'Backyard Astronomers' and also with an extended near-hour-long runtime, it focuses on amateur stargazers who explore the stars through the comforts of their own homes, and with the use of a variety of different telescopes. It's not quite the bonus feature that the extended 'Beyond the Big Bang' episode was for the first season but I suppose it's better than nothing - and this was a bigger season than the first anyway.
VerdictStill lacking the real-life visuals of the likes of BBC's The Blue Planet and Planet Earth, nor the substance of the BBC's 1999 show The Planets (although this is far more up-to-date and extensive), The Universe nevertheless maintains a solid fan-base and gives viewers an intriguing fact-packed voyage through the known universe and beyond. This second season gives us more of the same, only leaving our Solar System for the far reaches, and becoming arguably more interesting as a result. It still has its faults, but as documentaries go, this is solid material, and comes across well on a solid Blu-ray release - which sports decent video and expectedly average 2-channel audio, as well as giving us a vaguely entertaining bonus episode to boot. Fans of the show will no doubt want to add this to the middle of their burgeoning The Universe collection, newcomers should check it out, particularly if they are interesting in exploring the stars in more detail.
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