In the 1980, famed astronomer Carl Sagan popularized science with his show Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. His show not only brought science to the masses but fostered a passion for discovery in viewers. Thirty-four years later, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is trying to resume Sagan’s mission with his new show Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.
First things first: in case you don’t know Neil deGrasse Tyson (and you should), he is the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space as well as a research associate in astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History. He is the former host of PBS’s educational science program NOVA: Science Now. Known for his intelligence and his wit, Tyson is a regular on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report. If anyone can capture Sagan’s spark, it’s Tyson.
The show begins with a long, CGI-heavy intro in which Tyson discusses the magnificence of the universe while establishing themes for the show. Most of the graphics are enthralling (picture yourself flying through a galaxy past countless stars and planets), though the spaceship Tyson sits in borders on cheesy. It’s something straight out of Star Trek, and while fun it detracts a bit from the realism of the show.
Much of the show follows suit, with Tyson soaring through the cosmos as the viewer travels through ascending orders of scale. We begin with our solar system and make our through the solar system and beyond, learning about astrophysics as Tyson pieces together our cosmic address. Most of these sequences are fun—perhaps the most enthralling point of the premiere is when Tyson points to an expanse of blackness, explaining our eyes pick up only a sliver of light emitted in the universe. The camera then switches to an infrared lens, revealing a giant rogue planet in front of the ship. The thrill of discovery is palpable here, which makes Tyson’s explanation of rogue planets’ mysterious oceans all the more exciting.
The only drawback to these segments is the occasional cheesiness. Tyson will often stroll through his starship while playing with futuristic technology. Though many of these 3D-displays and holograms are fun and informative, I couldn’t help feelings like I was watching a hybrid of Star Trek and Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman. Cosmos draws heavily from these predecessors, and it’s quite apparent in the opening episode.
The biggest surprise, however, are the lengthy animated sequences in the show. The series opener focuses on the story of Giordano Bruno, a Dominican monk persecuted and eventually burned for his theories. Inspired by Copernicus and the philosophers of antiquity, Bruno envisions an infinite universe in which our sun is just one of countless stars and planets. Though he has no evidence, Bruno preaches his theories as religious revelations. His vision comes into conflict with the Church, which tortures him for years and eventually burns him as a heretic. This animated story takes up the majority of the episode and offers a fascinating insight into the history of science and its friction with religion. In fact, the most shocking and laudable aspect of the show is how forward Tyson is about the medieval Church and religion’s conflict with science. Through this anecdote he paints an honest portrait of a corrupt organization, a medieval “thought police” that thrives on ignorance and fear. The historical background provides wonderful insight into the evolution of science and how society has arrived at our current understandings.
The latter third of the episode focuses on the immensity of time, explaining the history of the universe. This is done by compressing the 13.8 billion years into a calendar year with the present day the end of December 31. Tyson walks through important moments in time, starting on January 1 with the Big Bang and progressing through the ensuing months and days. This metaphor makes cosmic history easy to follow and does a fantastic job of explaining a concept our brains simply haven’t evolved to comprehend. Tyson provides evidence for each event has he passes it, adding an additional layer of depth to each theory.
Cosmos’ first episode offers a fascinating, easy-to-understand explanation of general cosmology and the sheer magnitude of space and time. Neil deGrasse Tyson brings his expertise and engaging manner to the forefront of what has the potential to be a fantastic follow-up to Carl Sagan’s original show. Slight cheesiness and a strong resemblance to Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman somewhat hamper the immersion but remain afterthoughts in an engaging hour of history and science.
+ Top-notch CGI paints amazing picture of universe
+ Neil deGrasse Tyson is amazing
+ Makes complicated science engaging and accessible
+ Objective historical background
– CGI can be somewhat cheesy
– Feels too much like Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman
What are your impressions? Are you excited for Cosmos? Share your thoughts below. Be sure to check me out on Twitter and Facebook as well, where I talk about science and Pokemon. Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to subscribe for new content every Wednesday. IT’S FREE!
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