Cosmos: Carl Sagan’s visionary series returns [Review Part One]

“This is the cosmos: a network of a hundred billion galaxies… and it is the greatest story science has ever told.”

It was one of the most loved shows of the 20th century. It inspired an entire generation of scientists to explore the universe. It gave millions an insight into the marvellous complexity of the reality around us. It was Cosmos: A Personal Voyage.

Now it has been given new life to achieve all of these goals again, today.

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey aired for the first time last night across 10 of the biggest American networks. The reboot, hosted by science communicator Neil DeGrasse Tyson, ran for just shy of an hour and began the first of a 13-part journey into exploring the cosmos.

I wanted to give my personal thoughts on how successful the first episode actually was. The first Cosmos by Carl Sagan in the 1980s was a huge influence on me so the 2013 version  has a lot to live up to. Did it?

The Opening Minutes

Tyson stands on the very same shoreline cliffs that Sagan stood more than three decades before. This begins a perfectly nostalgic undertone to the show, establishing Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey as a re-imagining of A Personal Voyage. It is not a scene by scene recreation, but throughout the episode, Cosmos keen-eyes will see nods to the original -certain phrases from Sagan are repeated by Tyson, the Ship of the Imagination, the cosmic calendar e.t.c.

It was good to see the show did not open immediately with flashy CGI or imposing text overlay,  but a wave crashing against the beach to symbolise how this series’ journey will take viewers beyond the shore of the cosmic oceanon which humanity stands.

The content (i.e. The science)

I was initially worried the producers of the show would cram too much information from an overly diverse range of topics to hook viewers on shallow knowledge, but this was not the case. The opening episode dealt with only certain issues while being able to raise the interest in other topics that will be expanded upon in later episodes.

One of the main sections of the premier concerned the story of Giordano Bruno, Italian philosopher of the 1500’s. In a beautifully crafted interpretative animation (made by Family Guy’s Seth MacFarlane and his animation studio), Bruno’s tribulations as an open-minded believer are covered with a shockingly dark tone. His prosecution and eventual execution by the Church uncovers just how abusive religion was to the expansion of science back in the 16th century. This segment plays well into the first episode’s theme of having a curious mind and willingness to explore other possibilities outside of the accepted truth.

The cosmic calendar made a spectacular return from the 80’s version of the show. This concept neatly summarises the 13.78 billion years of our universe by condensing events to one calendar year- from the Big Bang at midnight on January 1, to the present day at 23.59pm on December 31. On this scale, our industrial revolution happened just 14 seconds ago.

While the complexity of the science covered in this first episode hardly surpassed high-school standard, it was nevertheless engaging and informative, particularly for those who may not have any interest in the sciences.

This post is the first in a two-part review. See part two here.


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