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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Science > The Creation Of The Universe (PBS)

The Creation of the Universe (PBS Video)


Video: B-     Audio: B-     Extras: C     Main Program: A-



The cover of the DVD for PBS’ The Creation of the Universe boasts that the viewer can “explore the latest answer to science’s oldest question.”  When you examine the DVD closely, though, you’ll discover that the program included inside is from 1985.  This is now 2005.  How can it be the “latest” answer if it’s a two-decade-old one—granted, to a multi-millennia old question, but still.


But after watching the engrossing, admittedly dated The Creation of the Universe, you’ll quickly realize that, indeed, this represents a fairly up-to-date briefing on the issues the program’s concerned with, namely theoretical physics.


Timothy Ferris is our guide on the murky world of quarks, bosons, weak forces, etc. that is as dense as the early universe is theorized to have been.  He alternately takes us on a tour of our natural world and the one that lies in the heavens to explain the leaps in thought that have happened since the first use of the telescope through the postulation of the Theory of Relativity to the (1985) current thinking of such minds as Stephen Hawking.  Using extremely dated computer effects, Ferris explains—in as layman’s terms as possible—how subatomic particles are created now in labs, how they are created in nature and how they affect the world around us.


The issues and ideas that Ferris concerns himself with here will be immediately recognizable to anyone that’s taken an advanced Physics or Chemistry class, but that doesn’t reduce the usefulness of both the information itself and its presentation.


There are few volumes available on DVD that packs as much substance in as little space as is present on The Creation of the Universe.  Yes it’s dated and yes it can be a bit hokey, but the ideas and questions raised about theoretical and particle physics have yet to be answered and the poor computer graphics make one nostalgic for a time before the Hubble deep-space telescope and sophisticated computer graphics when we were forced to imagine what distant, far-off galaxies and subatomic particles looked like.


But one of the most personally interesting things found on this disc is the interview and lecture footage with Dr. Hawking.  For anyone under 25 with any level of interest in the subject matter, the only image of Dr. Hawking is the perpetually smiling, wheelchair-imprisoned brilliance who uses a computer for speech.  Here, though, Dr. Hawking still has the (limited) ability of speech and uses an interpreter to help get his thoughts across. This is a small thing, but it ultimately puts a much more personal face on the man while humanizing him and showing just how crippling his disease is.


When watching The Creation of the Universe, you’d be hard-pressed not to notice how old the thing looks.  That’s to be expected since it was made in ’85, but while a clean image, there are still murky spots here and there.  They don’t take away in any way from the program itself, but instead draws your attention to its age.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo audio on the disc with some Pro Logic surround suffers from the same problem.  While surely the best efforts of PBS have been put into cleaning the program up, you can only do so much.


Extras-wise, there is only one thing on the disc: a commentary with Ferris.  At first, you might think this redundant as he is already narrating—indeed, commentating—on the program.  But listening to the track provided for an interesting retrospective on a science program that has found an audience and kept it for 20 years.


If you’re searching for an interesting DVD on the subject of theoretical and particle physics and how it relates to the creation of, well, everything, you can’t go wrong with The Creation of the Universe. Other programs might provide more in the way of up-to-date information and extensive extras, but there’s no denying the strength of just how much is packed into this program, making it one of the best around.



-   Dante A. Ciampaglia


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