Archive for January, 2015

How does the new series stack up to the old?

I watched the original Cosmos series when it premiered. Like many I was captivated by the way in which Dr. Sagan told a story. It was made all the better because the story was actually true. He took us on a survey of the Universe. Small to enormous, past to future, Sagan walked us in the footsteps of man’s discovery of the world around him. He also didn’t shy away from the topic of the earth’s limited resources and the impact man was having in the way in which we were extracting, utilizing and disposing of them. That series and James Burke’s Connections set the standard in my mind for how science and history could be presented to a wide audience.

So, when I heard that Dr. Tyson (the man who drove the getaway car) would be hosting Cosmos: The Next Generation, I was excited. I’d seen bits of his “Great Courses” class The Inexplicable Universe: Unsolved Mysteries and thought it was interesting. The production quality was a bit wonky, but I attributed that to it being a class.

I watched Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey. Twice. The first time broadcast and the second via iTunes. The science was great. The images from space were stunning. The message of planetary stewardship carried an even greater urgency. And yet, I found myself not really being all that moved. Not like the original. And that bothered me.

It bothered me because I couldn’t quantify what it was that I didn’t like. Finally I realized that it was the ‘reenactments’ that were bothering me. The original series went to great lengths to stage the reenactments. The new series used stylized animation. For me the result was that these abstracted the events being depicted. It came across as though you were being told a story instead of being a witness to the event. The net effect of which is that your experience is more akin to sitting in a movie theater watching a cartoon about Robin Hood vs. standing feet from charging horses in a jousting match put on by the Society for Creative Anachronism. One could absolutely argue that neither one is real. But I would then ask, which one has a greater impact? If I set up a lab experiment with lenses and prisms, I know it has more reality than images in a book or animation on a tablet.

There’s talk of a second season (without Dr. Tyson). If it does come to pass, I hope they will consider using people instead of paint. In a world where we’ve replaced doing science with watching it, every little bit helps.

I hope that everyone takes the time to watch both the old and new Cosmos. Getting teens to watch it would be good too.

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