I’ve been absorbing a lot of science lately. My daughter listens to the They Might Be Giants “Science is Real” CD every day (and I mean every day) on the way to school. I just finished Bill Bryson’s excellent science/history book “A Brief History of Everything.” (Seriously, I can’t recommend this one highly enough.) In other words, I’m primed for an entertaining science lesson — which is why I was pleased when the three-disc “Wonders of the Solar System” set landed on my desk.
I’ve been absorbing a lot of science lately. My daughter listens to the They Might Be Giants “Science is Real” CD every day (and I mean every day) on the way to school. I just finished Bill Bryson’s excellent science/history book “A Brief History of Everything.” (Seriously, I can’t recommend this one highly enough.) And, in a more pop culture-related vein, I’ve been paging through Philip Plait’s fascinating volume “Death From the Skies,” which describes all the horrible, terrible, entertaining ways the world could end.
In other words, I’m primed for an entertaining science lesson — which is why I was pleased when the three-disc “Wonders of the Solar System” set landed on my desk. Originally produced in England and released here in the states by the BBC, “Wonders of the Solar System” is the best science class you never had in school. Hosted by physicist Brian Cox (not to be confused with the actor of the same name, though he’s definitely camera-ready), each episode focuses on a different topic — the sun, life on other planets, the destructive forces of the solar system, that sort of thing. Cox delivers plenty of hard scientific information on each subject, but that’s not what makes the show so entertaining.
The best thing about “Wonders of the Solar System” is that it lives up to its title. As he’s teaching you about science, Cox also manages to make you feel the wonder of what’s around you. In “Empire of the Sun,” for example, he shows you an actual solar eclipse, then explains how we happen to be in the perfect place in the solar system to witness one because our moon is just the right size and distance to perfectly — perfectly! — blot out the sun.
Later in the same episode, Cox explains how the solar wind should have blown our atmosphere away billions of years ago, but it didn’t, thanks to Earth’s handy-dandy magnetic field. Then he goes to northern Norway to catch a glimpse of the spectacular Northern Lights and explains that these beautiful images are actually the solar winds snapping back the magnetic field like a colossal rubber band. When you know the science behind them, they’re even more breathtaking.
“Wonders of the Solar System” is full of those kinds of moments, and Cox makes an excellent teacher because he’s obviously excited about his subject. Whether he’s gazing at the Grand Canyon on describing an even grander canyon on Mars (it would stretch from New York to L.A.), he makes you realize just how unbelievably big everything is. The three-disc set includes the complete five-hour series plus a pair of bonus programs. It looks great, too, with impressive computer effects, startling astronomical images and some jaw-dropping cinematography. Watch this one on the biggest screen you can find.
Contact Will Pfeifer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 815-987-1244. Read his blog at blogs.e-rockford.com/movie man/
Also on DVD: Those English teens are troubled, too
After you’ve witnessed the majesty of space on “The Wonders of the Solar System,” maybe you’ll be craving something a little more Earthbound. If that’s the case, may I suggest another British release from BBC Video, “Skins.”
Now in its third “series” (as they say across the pond), “Skins” focuses on a group of roughly high school-age students and their various adolescent trials and tribulations. Each series brings a new group of kids, but the themes remain the same: sex, drugs, family troubles and all the other elements that make growing up such a pain. If you’re a fan of “Gossip Girl” or other teen dramas and you’d like to see the same sort of thing, only better, more daring and full of British accents, check out “Skins.” All three series are available on DVD, with the third just out. Each set includes several episodes, plus numerous bonus features.
— Will Pfeifer
Make room in your collection
Some DVDs out Tuesday
“30 Rock: Season Four”: This season of the fast-paced NBC comedy started out a little rough, but by the end it was full of funny stuff we expect. (This is only one of many DVD sets out this week in preparation for the imminent fall season. Let’s count them, OK? One...)
“Bored to Death: The Complete First Season”: Jason Schwartzman, Ted Danson and Zack Galifianakis star in this low-key comedy about an amateur detective. (Two...)
“Community: The Complete First Season”: Maybe the funniest new show of last season, with great comic turns from Joel McCale and (believe it or not) Chevy Chase. (Three...)
“Desperate Housewives: Complete Sixth Season”: Is this show still on the air? Apparently. (Four...)
“Directors: Life Behind the Camera”: Tim Burton, James Cameron, Ron Howard, Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone and other big-name directors discuss their work.
“Ice Age 3-Dawn of the Dinosaur 3D”: More computer-animated prehistoric comedy, and, of course, it’s in 3-D.
“Modern Family: The Complete First Season”: A very funny show that puts a new spin on the old family formula. (Five...)
“Robin Hood”: Russell Crowe picks up a bow in this big-budget retelling of the age-old story.
“Tinker Bell And The Great Fairy Rescue”: My daughter has been waiting for this movie for what seems like forever. Maybe yours has, too.
“Two and a Half Men: Season 7”: Charlie Sheen is the highest paid actor on TV. Think about that. (Oh, and that’s six TV DVD sets. More to come next week.)
Selena Gomez & The Scene, “A Year Without Rain”: Sure, a year without rain sounds good, Selena, but in reality it would lead to famine and tragedy.
Santana, “Guitar Heaven: The Greatest Guitar Classics of All Time”: Santana rocks out, with guest appearances by Chris Cornell, Rob Thomas, Gavin Rossdale, Joe Cocker and, of course, Yo Yo Ma.
John Legend & The Roots, “Wake Up!”: Perfect for your alarm clock, obviously.
Randy Houser, “They Call Me Cadillac”: Funny, you think they’d call him Randy.
Rhonda Vincent, “Taken”: Not the soundtrack to the Liam Neeson action thriller. Sorry.
Black Country Communion, “Black Country Communion”: And we have a winner for least imaginative title of the week.
Maximum Balloon, “Maximum Balloon”: Wait! We have a tie!
Johnny Mathis, “Let It Be Me: Mathis In Nashville”: Mathis records Nashville classics with appearances by Allison Krause and Lane Brody.
— Will Pfeifer
Sources: dvdtalk.com, tophitsonline.com