I am a massive fan of Carl Sagan’s work.
I own most of his published works and through his words, I have been taken in by the passion he had for science, history and for telling stories in ways that created excitement and awe in people. I was disheartened by my own experiences with Science during High School and at University, however Carl’s books enticed me back into the world of science again.
With the impending premiere of the 2014 “reboot” I decided to finally purchase DVDs of the original television series, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. The companion book has been a part of my collection for almost twenty years now so picking this up has taken far too long. The bonus would be that I’d also have an opportunity to see it in conjunction with the new iteration of this epic science adventure.
To help us (this time) on our journey, we have Neil de Grasse Tyson, who is filling some pretty big shoes. At first it feels like he is following the original script a little too closely but once he escapes into new territory you start to see the real man; a compelling speaker who exudes a warmth that makes you feel like you are sharing his own personal journey.
Cosmos has always been about telling us not only where we are going but also how we arrived here in the first place. During the opening episode Tyson describes how he first met Carl Sagan as a young boy and how that forever changed his life. It’s a small moment that shows he too is aware of what hosting the series means and wants to reassure us it is in safe hands as we begin our journey. It may not be a necessary gesture; the original series premiered in 1980, so the majority of viewers are either too young to know of it or old enough to only have scant memories. Not many will be like me and watching both versions one after the other.
Like the old series, the structure of the new uses each episode to focus on a single subject area that is part of the larger whole. For example, the first episode “Standing Up in the Milky Way” concerns humanity learning our place in the universe. Throughout the series there are two main methods of exploring these subjects.
The first is by traveling through space with Tyson on a “Ship of the Imagination”. Through this startling creation we are all given a chance to have a birds eye view of the universe with a special effects budget that would outshine many Star Trek episodes. Points illustrated during the course of an episode are a lot easier to consider when it all looks this amazing.
The second method takes us back into the past through animated vignettes. Scientists throughout history have plenty of tales to tell and we get to experience these through an evocative style that can succeed well at striking the appropriate tones when it needs to. Through these stories, Cosmos shows that irrespective of gender, race, culture, religion or political persuasion the show is not afraid to show the debts we owe across the world to those who value the pursuit of science.
The different styles work really well in helping to break each part of the episode up into smaller, more digestible bites. Using science is key in the pursuit for understanding and Cosmos goes out of its way to show that it has no borders or bias and that is what I remember most about this series in both its forms.
When it was first announced that Seth MacFarlane, the creator of Family Guy, was rebooting Cosmos there were plenty of raised eyebrows. Would he be able to approach Cosmos with the respect it has earned over the years? He does as this article proves and later when viewing the credits of the episodes and you see the multitude of notable people involved, you’ll know the series has been a labour of love for many others too.
Is it better than the original? When I think about it, I’d say it’s unfair comparison to make when there is a thirty year difference not only in scientific advances but also television production values. Both are products of their time but I feel confident in thinking that 2014’s Cosmos will have legs as long as the 1980 version.
Much like another famous documentary series Planet Earth, the Blu-Ray edition is a high definition showcase that shows that it’s not only movies that can make that television of yours look its best. With thirteen episodes there is a huge amount of content to enjoy and that is not even taking into account the special features.
Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey is the kind of series that you hope inspires a young child or student to think they too could be someone and do something to benefit mankind. It doesn’t have all the answers but it does its job well in covering a lot of scientific discovery within the scope of its episodes.
In a time when Science is cast in doubt by uninspired educators and religious doctrine, being reminded of the wonders of the universe and the importance of the scientific method is paramount in steering us back on the right course.
If you’ve ever had the slightest interest in science or the universe in general, this is a highly recommended series that might even help change your view of the world around us. You couldn’t ask for a better place to start.