DVD/Blu-ray review: “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage” (1980)

“Cosmos: A Personal Voyage” (1980)

Documentary/Mini-series

5stars_small

Thirteen Episodes

Written by:   Carl Sagan, Ann Druyan, and Steven Soter

Produced by:  David Kennard, Geoffrey Haines-Stiles, and Gregory Andorfer

Featuring: Carl Sagan

Carl Sagan: “There are some hundred billion galaxies, each with, on the average, a hundred billion stars, 1011 x 1011 = 1022, ten billion trillion. In the face of such overpowering numbers, what is the likelihood that only one ordinary star, the Sun, is accompanied by an inhabited planet? Why should we, tucked away in some forgotten corner of the Cosmos, be so fortunate? To me, it seems far more likely that the universe is brimming over with life. But we humans do not yet know. We are just beginning our explorations. From eight billion light-years away we are hard pressed to find even the cluster in which our Milky Way Galaxy is embedded, much less the Sun or the Earth. The only planet we are sure is inhabited is a tiny speck of rock and metal, shining feebly by reflected sunlight, and at this distance utterly lost.”

If you have never heard of Carl Sagan or this television series which was ground breaking for its time you are in for a treat. Sagan’s legacy has been etched in stone since his untimely death from cancer in 1996, he was not only a scientist, but an author of both fiction and non-fiction – both equally successful, his writings influenced thousands of people – the last project he was involved in was the Robert Zemeckis directed “Contact” (1997) starring Oscar winners Jodie Foster and Mathew McConaughey. Now comes the magnum opus that is his television legacy “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage”, a treat to anyone that loves Sagan, his work and the natural world set in the past with an eye on the future, it also spawned the sequel “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” (2014) by super fans Seth MacFarlane, Brannon Braga, Ann Druyan and of course Neil deGrasse Tyson. 

If you have never seen this television show you have missed a treat, sure there are some downsides to it, the two most obvious are that, one, the special effects look extremely crude, but were of course cutting edge for the day, and secondly some of the information has become a little dated but the spirit of the the television show is apparent, there is no way you can discount Sagan’s talent and passion. I believe this a must buy and watch with your family to see how far we have come in the past thirty years and how far we still have to go. You should also try and find “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” (2014) as an updated companion piece.

Astronomer Dr. Carl Sagan is host and narrator of this 13-hour series that originally aired on Public Broadcasting Stations in the United States. Dr. Sagan describes the universe in a way that appeals to a mass audience, by using Earth as a reference point, by speaking in terms intelligible to non-scientific people, by relating the exploration of space to that of the Earth by pioneers of old, and by citing such Earth legends as the Library of Alexandria as metaphors for space-related future events. Among Dr. Sagan’s favorite topics are the origins of life, the search for life on Mars, the infernal composition of the atmosphere of Venus and a warning about a similar effect taking place on Earth due to global pollution and the “greenhouse effect”, the lives of stars, interstellar travel and the effects of attaining the speed of light, the danger of mankind technologically self-destructing, and the search, using radio technology, for intelligent life in deep space.

Episode Guide:

  1. “The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean”: The first episode has talking about a description of the cosmos and a “Spaceship of the Imagination” (shaped like a dandelion seed). The ship journeys through the universe’s hundred billion galaxies, the Local Group, the Andromeda Galaxy, the Milky Way, the Orion Nebula, our Solar System, and finally the planet Earth.
  2. “One Voice in the Cosmic Fugue”: The second episode is all about something other commentators related to Sagan such as Neil deGrasse Tyson and Richard Dawkins love to address, that being evolution through natural selection (and the pitfalls of intelligent design). Among the topics are the development of life on the Cosmic Calendar and the Cambrian explosion; the function of DNA in growth; genetic replication, repairs, and mutation; the common biochemistry of terrestrial organisms; the creation of the molecules of life and speculation on alien life.
  3. “Harmony of the Worlds”: The third episode delineates between astrology and astronomy, we see the development of astronomical observation, starting with constellations and ceremonial calendars, it then shifts to the debate between Earth and Sun-centered models.
  4. Heaven and Hell”: The fourth episode looks at comets and asteroids as planetary impactors, giving recent examples of the Tunguska event and a lunar impact. It moves to a description of the environment of Venus, which is highly entertaining.
  5. “Blues for a Red Planet”: The fifth episode is, as luck would have it in terms of today’s world,  all about Mars. The episode ends with the possibility of the terraforming and colonization of Mars.
  6. “Travellers’ Tales”: The sixth episode is all about the journeys of the Voyager probes – this does seem to be a little on the old fashioned side now, but is extremely informative nevertheless.
  7. “The Backbone of Night”: In the seventh episode something truly unique happens and I cannot see it happening again in a similar show, Carl Sagan teaches students in a classroom in his childhood home in Brooklyn, New York, which leads into a history of the different mythologies about stars and the gradual revelation of their true nature.
  8. “Journeys in Space and Time”: The eighth episode revolves around ideas about time and space in the changes that constellations undergo over time, time dilation in Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, time travel and its hypothetical effects, the origins of the Solar System, the history of life, and the immensity of space.
  9. “The Lives of the Stars”: The ninth episode all about the atoms and subatomic particles (electrons, protons, and neutrons) necessary to form the entire universe.
  10. “The Edge of Forever”: The tenth episode begins with the origins of the universe in the Big Bang, Sagan describes the formation of different types of galaxies and anomalies such as galactic collisionsand quasars. The episode moves further into ideas about the structure of the Universe, such as different dimensions, an infinite vs. a finite universe, and the idea of an oscillating Universe.
  11. “The Persistence of Memory”: The eleventh episode looks at the idea of intelligence in the concepts of computers (this is now extremely dated), whales (in their songs and their disruptions by human activities), DNA, the human brain, and man-made structures for collective intelligence (cities, libraries, books, computers, and satellites).
  12. “Encyclopaedia Galactica”: In the twelfth episode questions are raised about the search for intelligent life beyond the Earth, with UFOs and other close encounters refuted in favor of communications through SETIand radio telescope such as the Arecibo Observatory.
  13. “Who Speaks for Earth?”: In the last episode Sagan reflects on the future of humanity and the question of “who speaks for Earth?” when meeting extraterrestrials. .

“Cosmos: A Personal Voyage” is available now on DVD & Blu-ray.

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