Site created 12/15/97.
review added: 3/6/01
Edition - 1980 (2001) - Cosmos Studios
review by Bill Hunt,
editor of The Digital Bits
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras):
Specs and Features
780 mins (13 episodes at 60 mins each), NR, full frame (1.33:1), 1
single-sided, single-layered disc and 7 single-sided, dual-layered
discs (no layer switch), custom gatefold & slipcase packaging,
music & effects track (DD 5.1), "science update"
subtitle option, multi-language menu options, video updates with
Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan (after several episode), new footage,
program-themed menu screens with music (available in 7 languages -
see subtitles), scene access (12 chapters per episode), languages:
English (DD 5.1), subtitles: French, Italian, German, Spanish,
Mandarin, Japanese and English (for the hearing impaired)
"The Cosmos is
all that is, or was, or ever will be..."
Over the course of his lifetime, Carl Sagan was many things. As a
scientist trained in both astronomy and biology, Sagan was a
longtime consultant for NASA. He briefed the Apollo astronauts
before their flights to the Moon, and worked diligently on the
Mariner, Viking, Voyager and Galileo missions to the planets of our
solar system. He was a teacher, a researcher and a best-selling
But, in my mind, Sagan's greatest achievement was his life-long
effort to take difficult scientific concepts and make them
accessible to the public at large. Sagan lifted the veil of mystery
and danger that seems to surround science in the minds of so many
these days. It's one of the great failings of modern scientific
endeavor, that even while making discoveries of the greatest
relevance, many of today's scientists haven't the foggiest idea how
to convey the importance of their work to the rest of us. Carl Sagan
not only brought the rest of us along on his many travels through
the Universe, he was kind enough to loan us his own sense of wonder
to view it with.
Nowhere was that sense of wonder more apparent, than in his 1980,
Emmy and Peabody award-winning television series, Cosmos
(which he hosted, and which was accompanied by a book of the same
name that went on to become the best-selling science book ever
published in the English language). Over the course of its 13,
hour-long episodes, Cosmos
took us on a unparalleled journey from the tenuous strands of our
own DNA to the farthest reaches of the known Universe, from the very
beginning of time to the present day and beyond. And now, thanks in
large measure to his wife and collaborator on the series, Ann
Druyan, Carl Sagan's record of that journey has become accessible to
a whole new generation of viewers on DVD. Presented on 7 discs, the
Cosmos: Collector's Edition is
a treasure. It contains the entire 13 episode series as follows...
I. The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean
- Series host Dr. Carl Sagan takes viewers to the edge of the
Universe aboard a "spaceship of the imagination". Through
the magic of special effects, we witness quasars, exploding
galaxies, star clusters, supernovas and pulsars. And, back on Earth,
we visit a recreation of the ancient Library of Alexandria, seat of
learning on Earth 2,000 years ago.
II. One Voice in the Cosmic Fugue
- Sagan uses a "cosmic calendar" to make the 15 billion
year history of the Universe understandable, and frames the origin
of the Earth and the evolution of life. We see the steps from the
first microbes to modern humans and learn how the development of
life on Earth has important implications for the possibility of life
elsewhere in the Universe.
III. The Harmony of the Worlds
- A historical recreation of the life of Johannes Kepler, the first
modern astronomer, provides insights into humanity's understanding
of the Moon and planets.
IV. Heaven and Hell - We
descend into the hellish atmosphere of Venus to learn about the
dangers of pollution and runaway greenhouse effects. And we travel
through the solar system to understand the effects of cosmic
V. Blues for a Red Planet -
Sagan examines the possibility of life on Mars, takes us to its very
surface and looks at humanity's historical perspective of the Red
Planet in both science and science fiction.
VI. Traveller's Tales - The
17th Century sailing expeditions of the great Dutch explorers are
compared with the Voyager spacecraft's modern journey to Jupiter and
VII. The Backbone of Night -
Sagan takes us back into history to examine how the ancient Greeks
struggled to understand the nature of stars in the Milky Way. And he
looks back at his own childhood in Brooklyn, to a time he was asking
himself the same questions.
VIII. Travels in Time and Space
- We examine the changes in the patterns of constellations over
millions of years, journey to the planets of other stars and
consider the possibility of time travel through the eyes of a young
IX. The Lives of the Stars -
Using computer graphics and stunning photographs, Sagan examines the
way stars are born, live and eventually die as supernovas or black
holes. He then takes us 5 billion years into the future, to witness
the last perfect day on Earth.
X. The Edge of Forever - A
series of fantastic trips helps us to understand the birth of the
Universe, the development of galaxies and the very edges of space.
XI. The Persistence of Memory
- Sagan takes us into the human brain to examine the question of
intelligence and the nature of thought. And we examine another of
Earth's intelligent creatures - the whales.
XII. Encyclopedia Galactica -
Sagan asks the question, "Are we alone?" He takes us to
the farthest reaches of space to visit the worlds of hypothetical
alien civilizations and examines our modern Search for
XIII. Who Speaks for Earth? -
In the final episode of the series, Sagan retraces the Universe's 15
billion year struggle to awareness through the development of
intelligent life. He then discusses the danger we pose to ourselves
through nuclear war and other folly, and argues that our
responsibility for survival is owed not just to ourselves, but to
the very Cosmos from which we spring.
Intrigued yet? It's amazing to me how well the series has aged. The
science contained in these episodes is, by and large, still valid
today. Only occasionally has something that's being related onscreen
been made obsolete by new discoveries. And thankfully, this series
has been updated very cleverly in these situations. A special "science
update" subtitle track is available as an option on these DVDs.
If you turn it on, text will occasionally appear onscreen telling
you that a new discovery or theory has arisen, and explain what it
means for the information you're seeing and hearing in the episode.
For example, when this series was produced, it hadn't yet been
conclusively determined what ended the reign of the dinosaurs. In
one of the episodes, Sagan refers to the possibility of a comet
colliding with the Earth. If you have the update track on, you'll
see text that explains that recent discoveries have yielded fairly
conclusive evidence that a large asteroid was the culprit. In
addition to the "science update" subtitle track, a few of
the episodes also have video updates as well. These appear at the
end of the episodes in question, and were shot prior to Sagan's
death. They feature Sagan (or Druyan), who explains in more detail
the latest discoveries and information relevant to the episode.
Finally, from time to time, original video footage contained in the
episode has been replaced with more compelling visuals - shots of
stars and nebula have been updated using images taken by the Hubble
Space Telescope, for example. The spirit of the original moment in
the episode is always retained.
In terms of video, these episodes vary somewhat in quality. The new
footage is obviously first-rate, but you have to remember that the
series was originally produced using a documentary style combination
of film, analog video and other sources. Despite that, however, the
video has been digitally remastered and enhanced. It looks quite
good overall. It's a little edgy at times, the analog video looks a
little soft and you'll see some moderate grain from film sources.
But color and contrast are generally fine. This is never going to
serve as video reference material - it's not meant to. In any case,
while the video quality averages from awesome to adequate, the
average is very good.
The audio has also been remastered and remixed, and is available
here in English Dolby Digital 5.1. Again, it isn't going to blow
anyone away, but the series' score (including both contemporary and
classical pieces of music) is worth hearing in 5.1 sound. To that
end, a separate 5.1 track is also available which features just the
music and sound effects - a nice touch. And so that Cosmos
on DVD can be appreciated by audiences the world over, the discs
have been encoded for Region 0 (playable in all regions), and
include subtitles in French, Italian, German, Spanish, Mandarin,
Japanese and English for the hearing impaired. Again, a nice touch.
There aren't really any extras other than what we've already
mentioned (the video and subtitle update options and the 5.1 music
and effects track). But all of that is enough for me, given the
nature of this material. The extras you do get definitely enhance
your appreciation of the series and the subject matter.
Since our humble beginnings in the dawn of prehistory, humanity has
always looked over the next hill, across the widest ocean and up to
the farthest star... in wonder. Let's hope we never stop doing so.
Cosmos on DVD is a fitting
tribute to a man who dedicated his whole life to that ideal. Highly