The Paradigm of Time
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
If anyone who has spent a good chunk of their childhood watching the Discovery Channel and or the History Channel, they might have arrived at a rather morbid realization. As one flips through those channels now, they will either find a plethora of hillbilly reality shows or Shark Week, the latter of which has the tendency to make **** up and then pretend that it’s actual scientific work. Yeah, I don’t think so. In the midst of this desert of educational programming that is insightful and entertaining steps in Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. Sold to FX by Seth MacFarlane out of all people, Cosmos can be viewed as a higher tech successor to Carl Sagan’s sublime series that aired a few decades ago. This time at the helm is Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson, one of the most influential scientists of our age. He is perfectly suited to the role, his mellow voice never giving one the impression that he is teaching instead of conversing. Never is Dr. Tyson condescending to his viewers that perhaps are not as well-versed within the subject as he is. The only times when his voice becomes weary is when he discusses those individuals that refuse to see logic and reason within scientific experimentation.
Visually the series is absolutely stunning with one flaw. The visual effects used to portray the various depths and swaths of space are jaw-dropping in their perfectly executed ambition. When Dr. Tyson talks about how small we are in the universe or how diminutive human history really is in the grand scheme of things, you just don’t see it. You feel. Specifically there’s a sequence where Dr. Tyson first begins his trip on Earth and the camera slowly pans through space and the planet we inhabit becomes smaller and smaller and smaller. It’s a breathtaking sequence and while you’re watching, you get that sensation of slowly becoming smaller and smaller. It’s truly quite terrific. What’s less striking are the two-dimensional animations used to depict specific narrative scenes that focus on, for example, Ibn al Hussain and Sir Isaac Newton. Understandably the budget had to be cut somewhere, and the animation in and of itself isn’t bad (some shots are beautiful) but sometimes it can be jarring and take you our of the narrative when you should be the most engrossed within it.
In terms of content, Cosmos requires a second viewing. There is such a plethora of information packed within each hour that it simple isn’t possible to accrue all of the knowledge in one trip. Each episode smartly avoid becoming too obsessed with a singular topic and instead traverses through various examples while tying everything together with a singular thematic structure. The opening episode of the season and also its best, Standing Up in the Milky Way is a prime example of how brilliantly Cosmos ties in its cosmic reality with narrative panache. Anchored by Dr. Tyson in his Ship of the Imagination, he takes us through various times in the history of humanity, from the present to the persecutions of science by religious authorities in the Renaissance Era. The narrative could have easily felt scattered and disjointed, but the writers smartly take a simple truth and use it as a connective device to drive all the stories home together: the cosmos is vast beyond our imaginations and we are just a speck within it. It’s a simple, smart approach that drives home the understanding of why it is so vital for us to explore the cosmos further.
Perhaps that’s the most successful element of Cosmos. More than the grand, sweeping shots of the vistas in space or the more intimate portraits of some of the most incredible human beings in history, what Cosmos does best is provide you that desire to go out there and become a part of this expedition of science that has fundamentally transformed the world in more ways than perhaps we can ever be able to understand. Whether one espouses this expedition in the form of physics, chemistry, biology, or Dr. Tyson’s specialty, astrophysics is largely irrelevant. It’s the espousing that’s the vital part. Science perhaps becomes to most people something of an impossible roadblock full of equations and difficulty. But more so, science is thrilling and bursting with promise, thrill, and discovery. The journey is as every bit as important as the end itself and if Cosmos proves anything, it’s that the journey may not just be thrilling, but groundbreaking as well.
Directed by: Brannon Braga, Bill Pope, Ann Druyan
Produced by: Seth MacFarlane, Ann Druyan, Brannon Braga, Mitchell Cannold, Livia Hanich, Steven Holtzman
Written by: Ann Druyan
Based on: Cosmos: A Personal Voyage by Carl Sagan, Ann Druyan, and Steven Soter
Presented by: Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cinematography: Bill Pope
Editing by: John Duffy, Eric Lea, Michael O’Halloran
Production company: Cosmos Studios, Fuzzy Door Productions, Santa Fe Studios
Image Courtesy: Phenomena @ National Geographic