Thursday, December 13, 2007

Battlestar Galactica: Razor [Unrated Extended Edition]

"Battlestar Galactica: Razor" excels in creating yet another compelling story in the Galactica universe as reinvented by Executive Producers Ron Moore and David Eick. It presents itself in the same bleak and desolate dramatic tone that the sci-fi series is known for. The film tosses up the usual modern day moral quagmires, masked as futuristic allegory, for the characters (and the viewers) to navigate through, coming out the other end a little rougher and tougher than when the journey first started. "Razor" is a fine addition to what has become one of the most popular shows on television, acting as a nice little bit of what some might call "filler" that actually manages to expand on the ever growing operatic nature of the show.

The movie tries to fill in gaps raised during the course of the series, mostly focused around the Battlestar Pegasus and what happened between the Cylon attack that ended the armistice (at the beginning of the series) and its reappearance in the second season. The story unfolds in a dual manner as it flashes back to the aforementioned saga of the Pegasus (giving good reason to bring back Admiral Cain (Michelle Forbes) the anti-Adama) and in the "present" with its first mission under newly appointed commander, Apollo (Jamie Bamber). Apollo´s reluctance to take charge under the weight of his father´s presence is a big factor here and gives the character some interesting moments, especially in his usual song and dance with Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff).

Many familiar faces return in addition to the aforementioned players, we get to see Admiral Adama (Edward James Olmos) do double duty as we even get to witness a significant encounter Adama once had during the first Cylon war (in the past he is played excellently by Nico Cortez, gravely voice and all). Tricia Helfer returns as Number Six, though this time she´s featured as a crew member aboard the Pegasus (as well as Cain´s lover), which sheds new light on the Cylon´s relationship with Cain and both characters ultimate demise in the series. The rest of the cast is there in supporting roles or cameos, though some are entirely absent from the film altogether.

But it isn´t Cain, Apollo or any of the other series regulars that find themselves front and center of "Razor"; acting as the guiding light between both past and present is officer Kendra Shaw (Stephanie Jacobsen), who´s journey is a difficult one at best (would we really expect anything less?), as we see her go from a somewhat impressionable new transfer to the Pegasus crew, to a hard edged veteran, who holds many of Admiral Cain´s philosophies close to her heart. When Apollo offers Shaw a position as his second in command it allows her a shot at salvation for difficult choices she made while serving under Cain.

What "Razor" does best is allow us to see Shaw in her present state, rough around the edges and hardened by a difficult journey as a crewman aboard the Pegasus. She becomes something of a confidant for Cain and because of this we´re allowed a glimpse into what makes Cain tick, the justifications she uses for her actions – immoral in the eyes of some, fully justified in the eyes of others. Whatever the case may be, in the same way Apollo and Starbuck are extensions of Adama´s command, so is Shaw an extension of Cain. By giving us someone entirely new to follow through "Razor", the filmmaker´s have also given us a slightly different way of experiencing "Battelstar Galactica," and that's a very good thing.
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Chronological Donald, The, Volume Three: 1947-1950: Walt Disney Treasures

"Donald! Duck!" Opps. Too late. --"Mad" magazine

Growing up in the late forties and early fifties as I did, the Donald Duck cartoons from 1947-1950 are probably the very ones my dad and I saw when he took me to the theater on Saturday mornings for the weekly kiddie shows. I remember there would always be an adventure serial, some kind of comedy short--something along the lines of the Three Stooges--and about 800 cartoons. OK, to be honest I'm not sure if it was here that I first met Disney's Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse or not, because it seems like WB's Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies dominated the shows I watched more so than anything from Disney. Yet I'm sure there must have been some of the Duck and the Mouse in there somewhere, too, and in any event this third two-disc tin of Donald Ducks brings back memories of those old days.

I wish I could say I liked the Duck and his pals as much today as I once did, though. Unfortunately, I'm afraid he hasn't aged as well for me as WB's Road Runner, Bugs, Daffy, and the gang. Still, the Disney artwork alone is enough for any adult to enjoy, especially in this third volume of short features, dating as I say from the late forties to early 1950. Most of them are beautiful to behold.

As in the first couple of "Walt Disney Treasures" Duck boxes, each of the two discs in this set contains a number of cartoons, thirty in this case, at six-to-eight minutes apiece. Plus each disc contains various additional bonuses. Some of these cartoons have appeared before in other Donald Duck collections, true, but this is still a lot of Duck for the buck.

Disc one begins with "Straight Shooters," "Sleepy Time Donald," "Donald's Dilemma," "Crazy With the Heat," "Bootle Beetle," "Wide Open Spaces," and "Chip an' Dale" from 1947. Maybe the most unusual item here is "Sleepy Time Donald," with Clarence Nash as usual doing the famous voice. In what is probably the most risqué of Disney cartoons, Donald starts sleepwalking during the dead of night and walks right in through Daisy's bedroom window. Humoring him, Daisy walks with Donald around the city without waking him up. However, probably my favorites among this first set are "Donald's Dilemma," narrated by Daisy, in which Donald becomes an egotistical singing star and sets up a situation more mature than most of the other cartoons; and "Bootle Beetle," which is quite the sweetest and most attractive short on either disc.

Next come "Drip Dippy Donald," "Daddy Duck," "Donald's Dream Voice," "The Trial of Donald Duck," "Inferior Decorator," and "Soup's On" from 1948. The best of these for me was "Donald's Dream Voice," in which Donald is trying to sell brushes door to door but can't because nobody can understand a word he's saying. So, he takes some Ajax Voice Pills, which make him sound like actor Ronald Colman. The pills work for a time, but then.... Oh, dear.

After that, in a special section called "From the Vault" we get "Clown of the Jungle" (1947), "Three for Breakfast," and "Tea for Two Hundred" (1948). Leonard Maltin provides a special introduction to these three films because the folks at Disney want him to remind us that some of Donald's activities exhibited "inappropriate behavior," and the studio doesn't want kids emulating Donald's antics. Fair enough. Can you imagine what Disney might say today if they had produced some of the Looney Tunes cartoons?

Disc two starts with "Sea Salts," "Winter Storage," "Honey Harvester," "All in a Nutshell," "The Greener Yard," "Slide, Donald, Slide," and "Toy Tinkers," all from 1949. The big winners for me here are "Sea Salts," a delightful and beautifully animated selection, and "The Greener Yard," where we find the bootle beetles back, as much fun as ever. Otherwise, we get a lot of Chip an' Dale among these entries.

Following those, we find "Lion Around," "Crazy Over Daisy," "Trailer Horn," "Hook, Lion and Sinker," and "Out on a Limb" from 1950. Here, there are several encounters between Donald and nephews and a pesky mountain lion. As always, the background art can be more captivating than the action.

Things conclude with two more selections from in "From the Vault," again with Maltin's dire warning that these cartoons were made in another era and might contain material offensive to today's parents and children. These cartoons are "Donald's Happy Birthday" (1949) and "Bee at the Beach" (1950). They are not among the stronger entries in the field for artwork or story, but they reflect the frenetic behavior of its hero to a proper degree.
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Ice Road Truckers

In the earliest days of "Survivor" and "American Idol," a reasonable person could reasonably state: "Reality television sucks." However, since reality TV has proven to be the most successful economic model for television production, the genre has expanded far beyond the ersatz game show format and yielded a plethora of diverse sub-genres. There is no longer a monolithic entity called "reality television" to hate; in fact, some of it is pretty damn good.

My favorite sub-genre of reality television is the "dangerous jobs" one. I got completely hooked (pun intended) on Discovery Channel´s thrilling "The Deadliest Catch," a weekly reality series that followed the adventures of several crab boat pilots pursuing their elusive prey in the frigid Alaskan waters. "The Deadliest Catch" felt like a combination of one my favorite books a kid, Jack London´s "Call of the Wild," and one of my favorite books as an adult, Herman Melville´s "Moby Dick." That´s heady company, of course, and I´m not saying "Deadliest Catch" will go down as one of the 21st century´s great masterpieces, but damned if I didn´t watch every episode, even when they re-ran it later in the week. Colorful characters, salty sea talk, and death lurking behind every wave. What´s not to love?

The History Channel has tried to capitalize on the success of "Deadliest Catch" with its new reality series "Ice Road Truckers." Don´t let the creative title fool you: this is a series about guys who drive trucks over ice roads. Specifically, they haul big equipment from Yellowknife in Canada´s Northwest Territories up north to several diamond mines. They can only do their job about two months out of the year, not because the diamond mines close down the rest of the time, but because there is no road the rest of the year. You see, the ice road is really built over a series of frozen lakes, and the ice is only thick enough to support the weight of the trucks and their loads for a few months out of the year.

"Ice Road Truckers" copies the "Deadliest Catch" formula almost to the letter. The show focuses on several colorful characters who compete to haul the most loads before the ice road melts into water. The cast features grizzled veterans like Hugh "The Polar Bear" Rowland and Alex Debogorski, each with more than twenty years experience on the ice road, and cocky rookies like Drew Sherwood and T.J. Tilcox. You might confuse fresh-faced Jay Westgard with the rest of the newbies but at age 25 "The Prodigy" has already clocked 8 years on the ice road and doesn´t plan to stop anytime soon. Sophomore Rick Yemm has a score to settle with Hugh, his boss.

The writers go out of their way to emphasize how incredibly dangerous the ice road is. While much of this is hyperbole intended to inject artificial drama into the series (note the frequent insertion of sounds of cracking ice), the danger is real. Big rigs have plunged through the ice sheet, and truckers have died on the road before. Also, temperatures routinely dip to -30 or below which wind chill factors approaching -60, and some times these guys have to hop right into the cold to fix a broken air hose just to keep their truck moving! The danger is part of the appeal for most of these gung-ho truckers, though the money ain´t bad either. The top drivers can pull in $50,000 for just two months work.

But what work they have! On his first run, T.J. Tilcox discovers just what he´s up against as he finds himself barreling through white-out conditions. Sure, there´s no other road to turn off on, but it´s easy for a careless or confused driver to veer off into a snow bank which could lead to disaster since the higher the snow cover, the thinner the ice sheet below.

Just as "Deadliest Catch" tracks the crab fishermen´s total tonnage caught, "Ice Road Truckers" tracks each driver´s total loads hauled as they "dash for the cash." The show plays up the rivalries among the truckers, some of which are friendly, some decidedly not. Other dramatic questions help structure the season. Which rookies will wash out? Will anyone be able to beat The Polar Bear at his own game?

It´s all pretty exciting stuff, but it lacks the diversity and the strategy of "Deadliest Catch." The crab boat captains rove all over the sea looking for their catch, but the ice road truckers only have one road to drive, and they do it over and over again. The novelty begins to wear off by the end of the season´s tenth and final episode (each approx. 45 min.), and I doubt "Ice Road Truckers" will have the same shelf life as "Deadliest Catch" which is about to enter its fourth season.

It´s also disappointing that all of this "high adventure" takes place merely to provide DeBeers and other companies with the capitalist tools of oppression they need to rape the earth and provide rich people with shiny stones to put on their fingers. But you have to let that slide. "Ice Road Truckers" is a lot of fun.
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Edvard Munch: Special Edition 2-DVD Set

A distant cliff with thick ridges running vertically down its face looms large in front of us; rough, shadowy indentations pockmark the surface of this rocky landscape. A rocky landscape, you say? No. Rather, this shot is a close-up of a canvas on which Edvard Munch has been building layer upon layer of paint. It is the culmination of a startling series of shots in which the increasingly frenetic artist paints, scrapes away, re-paints, and nearly bores a hole into the canvas as he constantly revises his work. I cannot recall an instance in which the tactile elements of a painting have ever been captured so vividly on film: the sound of a knife flensing away paint, the actual texture of the paint layered on a canvas. Then again I have never seen a film quite like Peter Watkins´ brilliant "Edvard Munch" (1973).

The film primarily covers a ten year period from 1884-1894 (Munch from age 21 to 31) though it often returns to Munch´s tragedy-scarred childhood. Nineteenth century Christiania (today known as Oslo) was a city plagued by disease, both of the consumptive and venereal kind, and the Munch family, though not poor, was not spared its blight. Edvard´s mother, brother and his beloved sister Sophie died when he was still a child, and these crippling losses haunted him the rest of his life.

In 1884 the young Munch (played by Geir Westby who, like the rest of the cast, is a non-professional actor) belongs to a Bohemian intellectual circle spearheaded by Hans Jaeger (Kåre Stormark). Jaeger´s radical philosophy (a sloppy mix of nihilism and anarchy) influenced Munch greatly, though Watkins contends that another relationship, his long-running, tempestuous affair with the mysterious Mrs. Heiberg (Gro Fraas), was even more important in shaping the painter´s life. The story progresses through Munch´s formative years as an artist and details his battles with his own inner demons as well as demons of a very external kind: the art critics of his time.

As in his other films, Watkins employs pseudo-documentary techniques to recreate historical events, but "Edvard Munch" does not blur the lines between documentary and fiction so much as it renders the distinction altogether meaningless. Watkins narrates in a dry, formal voice that provides historical and political context, and all of Munch´s dialogue is taken directly from his diaries. Yet Watkins hardly restricts his film to a "just the facts" approach. Indeed, "Edvard Munch" is one of the most wildly innovative films I have ever seen, every bit as radical as the most avant of the avant-garde.

The film leaps back and forth through time, frequently flashing back to Munch´s childhood. The elliptical editing conveys Munch´s emotional state rather than simply connecting a series of events in typical biopic style. As Munch scratches frantically at his canvas, we return to the moment when his sister Sophie was dying of tuberculosis. Sometimes characters speak directly to the camera, either speaking on their own or answering the questions of an off-screen female voice. Where this voice comes from I have no idea, but it hardly matters. The actors sometimes improvised their lines, responding to questions with their own opinions rather than from Watkins´ script. Watkins used improvisation by non-professional actors to mixed effect in "Punishment Park" (1970), but in this film the strategy works to perfection.

All of these creative tools (discontinuous editing, characters looking at the camera, etc.) have been used in other films but the remarkable thing about "Edvard Munch" is that none of them function solely as Brechtian devices. Though the film has reflexive elements, it is not overtly self-conscious in the way that Godard´s films of the 60s or many of today´s post-modern films are. Rather, this hodge-podge of stylistic choices creates the eerie sense that we are peering in on past events as they are happening; the movie has an immediacy and physicality that lend it extraordinary power. Watkins has created a unique cinematic point of view that I can only describe as a free-associative semi-omniscient perspective which leaves open all possibilities at any point in time. Any shot that best conveys even the most subtle nuance is fair game. In art, there are no rules save those meant to be broken.

No subject is off-limits either. Though the film is about Edvard Munch, sometimes the story expands to depict life in Christiania, where the bourgeoisie thrived but the working class suffered from wretched labor conditions as well as rampant disease. Watkins has always been a politically engaged director and he lavishes attention on the world around Munch in order to avoid the romantic depiction of the artist as a solitary genius. Munch was shaped not just by mentors such as Hans Jaeger and, later, August Strindberg, but also by the conditions in which he was raised; his melancholia was not just artistic self-indulgence, but the logical response of a sensitive intellect to the squalor and inequity he witnessed every day (some scholars have also suggested that Munch suffered from bipolar disorder, an issue not addressed in the film).

Watkins clearly identifies with Munch. Munch had a restless mind and his style changed frequently, moving from impressionism to naturalism to expressionism and most points between; he also experimented with multiple media including lithography and woodcutting. His paintings were aggressive and shocking; agitated viewers didn´t know quite what to make of them. All of this alienated the staid art critics who derided Munch´s work, forcing him to move from to Paris and then later to Berlin, though he wouldn´t find acceptance anywhere until much later in his career. Similarly, Watkins describes himself as a marginalized director whose politically charged films have been suppressed by the media who prefer safer, more easily categorizable films. No doubt Watkins derives great pleasure by depicting Munch´s critics as preening dullards who treat any deviation from the norm as evidence of either incompetence or dementia.

Watkins matches Munch´s relentless experimentation with his own free-form innovations in this mesmerizing film. Though it is difficult to describe exactly how this movie looks, sounds and feels, I can easily describe its effect on me. I was riveted from start to finish, and found myself consistently surprised at every turn. "Edvard Munch" creates its own cinematic language and there is no way to anticipate which shot will follow from the previous one. What could have been a dry, predictable biopic is instead a dazzling panorama of not just a life but a world of ideas and emotions. It is also a deeply moving film that accumulates power with each scene. By the end I found myself in tears, not from sorrow, but rather because I felt overwhelmed by the blunt force of the film.

"Edvard Munch" is the best film about an artist and the artistic process that I have ever seen. Unlike most art films, it does not manufacture any cheap epiphanies when the artist is miraculously inspired by happenstance (Jackson Pollack watches a toppled paint can drip onto the floor and, in one quick cut, he is a genius!) Instead, we see that Munch achieved his most significant breakthroughs by three primary methods: work, work, and more work (much the same way Watkins made this movie). The film is every bit as much about the joy Munch took in the process of creation as it is about the anguish he suffered, and it produces an intoxicating viewing experience.
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Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

If you liked the first Harry Potter adventure to hit the screen, 2001's "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," you'll like 2002's "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" equally well. What's more, if you like high-definition picture and sound, you might like this second installment even better. The TrueHD audio, particularly, is about as good as it gets.

Preserving largely the same cast, with a few new characters thrown in for good measure, the movie continues the saga of the youthful wizard in his magical world of young and old fellow wizards, giant spiders, backstabbers, Basilisks, and miscellaneous evildoers. It's more of the same and great family fun.

Of course, this "more of the same" business can be a double-edged sword. While it's certainly good to have Harry and the gang back at Hogwarts, there is an inevitable sameness about the adventures, about the villains, about the settings, and about the climactic ending, all of which can become tiresome in so long a film. I remember giving up on the "Potter" books about a third of the way into the second volume for this very reason. The second novel seemed too much like the first one for me to be spending my time with it. Still, "The Chamber of Secrets" offers up visual delights the book could never hope to deliver even for the most imaginative reader, and it provides wondrous surprises around every turn, making it a safe recommendation for anyone who enjoys fantasy.

Again directed by Chris Columbus, again written by Steve Kloves from a novel by R.K. Rowling, again with music by the prolific John Williams, and again starring Daniel Radcliffe as wizard-in-training Harry Potter, the movie is a compendium of everything we liked about the first film, with the addition of a few new touches.

It's Harry's second year at Hogwarts, but as in "The Sorcerer's Stone," the story begins with Harry once more locked up by his wicked Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia (Richard Griffiths and Fiona Shaw) and heckled by his disagreeable cousin Dudley (Harry Melling). And as in the first installment, his friends rescue him, and after a brief episode in Diagon Alley he returns to the magic school, there to face a new challenge and find out new secrets about (OK, under) the ancient castle he now calls home. As before, a decisive battle transpires in the depths of Hogwarts, followed by a surprisingly long epilogue to wrap things up.

This time out, we find people at Hogwarts petrified all over the place, and Harry and his friends find the words "The Chamber of Secrets has been opened. Enemies of the heir...beware" written on a wall in blood. According to legend, a thousand years before wizards opened Hogwarts, one of the founding fathers, Salazar Slytherin, built a secret chamber somewhere in the labyrinthian building, a chamber no one could open except a proper heir to Slytherin, a chamber inhabited by a monster. Harry suddenly hears voices that no one else can hear, speaks in Parceltongue (snake language), and becomes the apparent center of the school's strange new goings on. Is he the true heir to Slytherin, and is he responsible for the petrifications and other bizarre activities of late?

More important than the plot, though, are the characters, most of the returning, some of them new. In addition to Harry and his Muggle relatives, Harry's friends Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) return to keep him company on his adventures. Hermione is sweeter and more charming than before, but Ron's whining begins to grate. Professor Albus Dumbledore returns, again played by Richard Harris (in one of his final screen appearances before his passing). Professor Minerva McGonagall also returns, again played by Dame Maggie Smith; plus the lovable giant, Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane); the not-so-lovable Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton); everybody's favorite ghost, Nearly Headless Nick (John Cleese); and the slimy Professor Snape (Alan Rickman).

New characters to the cast are the phony, egotistical, and ingratiating Professor Gilderoy Lockhart (flamboyantly played by Kenneth Branagh in a part the producers originally scheduled for Hugh Grant; I'm sure Grant would have been fine, too, but Branagh is a delight), who has filled a book "Magical Me" with personal exploits he didn't do; Draco's odious father, Lucius Malfoy (Jason Isaacs); an often befuddled herbalist, Madam Sprout (Miriam Margolyes); a misunderstood spirit no one wants around, Moaning Myrtle (Shirley Henderson); and a mysterious former Hogwarts student, Tom Riddle (Christian Coulson). But maybe the most memorable character of all is not a role played by a human at all; it's Dobby the House Elf, a computer-animated creation much like Gollum in "The Lord of the Rings." He's a so-ugly-he's-cute kind of fellow voiced by Toby Jones, who warns Harry not to come back to Hogwarts and thereafter appears to be up to more mischief than good. But give him a chance.

Moreover, not only do the characters make the film a pleasure to watch, so do the visual treats. In an oversight of monumental proportions, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences failed even to nominate the film for its special effects, but audiences can relish them forever in high definition. Savor not only the film's incredible visions of Hogwarts, with its amazing staircases and moving portraits, but enjoy the sights of a flying Ford Anglia, an angry Womping Willow tree, some fractious mandrake plants, a rigged Quidditch match (very exciting but thrown in rather extraneously), a regenerating Phoenix, and a Dark Forest (reminiscent of the one designed over sixty-five years earlier for "The Bride of Frankenstein") filled with really creepy spiders, among other things.

Once more the Potter fantasies provide a multitude of enchantments, although I still think "The Chamber of Secrets" is too long at 161 minutes for its own good. Director Chris Columbus moves things along at a comfortable if sometimes pedestrian pace, and the plot and characters provide the cozy feeling of a favorite easy chair. It's hard not to like this film despite its minor shortcomings.
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The Universe: Season One (The History Channel Presents)

"The sun is the hottiest planet, and it would burn you if you tried to eat it."
-Chris Peterson, "Get a Life"

When I was a kid, I wanted to be an astronomer. Not an astronaut, but an astronomer. After all, how often does an astronaut get to go into space; an astronomer can gaze into the universe every night! I read every astronomy book I could get my hands on, but the one I remember most vividly is an oversized book called "Our Universe" by Roy A. Gallant. I´ve always remembered the name too.

"Our Universe" (see picture on left) was a colorful picture book produced by National Geographic which had this neat section in which each of the planets was featured on its own double page. All the vital stats were listed (distance from sun, number of satellites, etc.) and I committed these all to memory. Best of all, some wonderful artist drew vivid depictions of what the alien life on each planet might look like. I have a memory of jellyfish-like creatures living on Venus, or maybe it was Neptune. I just remember they were really cool.

The History Channel´s series "The Universe" isn´t nearly as cool as that; in fact, there´s not a single jellyfish-like creature even mentioned in all of Season One. Still, the series (not to be confused with PBS´ "The Elegant Universe") offers its own awe-inspiring view of life, the universe and everything all packaged into 45 minute episodes.

Each episode introduces its subject of the week ("Saturn: Lord of the Rings!") then covers as much ground as possible on the central topic. The series balances nifty computer graphics with brief snippets of interviews with a variety of scientists. Neal deGrasse Tyson is the most frequent guest; does this guy ever get any work done between all his TV appearances? The series is designed to keep cable viewers from clicking the remote, so the talking heads are never allowed to hold court for more than about 15-20 seconds before we race on to the next nifty graphics shot. As you might imagine, the coverage remains fairly superficial, but having said that, I suspect most viewers will learn quite a bit from each episode. A sense of humor helps to kindle viewer interest as well; the episode on the outer planets provides an amusing look at the faux-outrage over poor Pluto´s recent demotion from planet to "big old hunk of rock."
There are four discs in the boxed set, each with 3 or 4 episodes (14 total).

Disc One: Secrets of the Sun, Mars: The Red Planet, The End of the Earth: Deep Space Threats to our Planet, Jupiter: the Giant Planet

Disc Two: The Moon, Spaceship Earth, The Inner Planets: Mercury and Venus

Disc Three: Saturn: Lord of the Rings, Alien Galaxies, Life and Death of a Star, The Outer Planets

Disc Four: The Most Dangerous Place in the Universe, Search for ET, Beyond the Big Bang

The series sticks to the facts, though even with the realm of hard science, there is plenty of room for fanciful speculation. All of the episodes are engrossing, but if I had to pick a favorite, it would probably be "Alien Galaxies," just because I know so little about our "neighboring" galaxies compared to all those facts about the solar system that I have long since memorized.

And on that subject, since when did Jupiter and Saturn get so many damned moons? I have to go back and re-memorize everything now. Or maybe I´ll just stick to my trusty well-worn copy of "Our Universe." If ain´t in the good book, I don´t need to know it.
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