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After learning from product specs and reviews here on Amazon that NOVA’s release of The Planets replaces the original BBC narrator and physicist Dr. Brian Cox with an actor from Star Trek (! and which version I have not seen), I went looking for the original program playable in region 1. This ‘all region’ set from Australia contains two 50GB 1080i 50Hz (50 cps refresh rate) bluray discs. This 50Hz (the European PAL standard rather than 60Hz, the North American NTSC standard) encoding makes these discs unplayable on some North American players, including many old ones (like my ancient Pioneer which expects 60Hz). They play OK on some newer ones (like a recent LG, which up-verts 50Hz input to 60Hz output) but not on others. Internet sites (including forum dot bluray dot com) list players that up-vert such discs. This set is well worth the time to investigate.
Widescreen is 16:9, with menu-set, easily-read, well-synchronized English SDH subtitles. The keep-case is above average quality. DTS master audio is fine (with a lurking didgeridoo). The five episodes are: terrestrial planets, two sisters Earth and Mars, godfather Jupiter, Saturn, and ice worlds; followed by short epilogs. Total run time is 4 hours 50 minutes; plus five useless, redundant ‘minisodes’.
The program is based on findings of various space probes including: Mariner, Viking, Veneras, Voyagers, Galileo, Cassini, Dawn, Messenger, Curiosity, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Maven, New Horizons and Juno; supplemented with Dr. Cox’s highly informed speculation, well-done CGI effects, and very few talking heads. As narrator, Dr. Cox keeps you engaged in the script with illustrations, vivid explanations, analogies; meanwhile wandering through widely dispersed terrain all over the planet; including several visits to Arizona’s (?) red-rock country; flyover of the (Swiss?) Alps via ultralight glider; trekking across an (Icelandic?) glacier; spending time along the edge of Meteor (and some other?) Crater; standing under the Icelandic Aurora Borealis; tracing fossilized dinosaur tracks on a Colorado mountain plateau; trudging across snow fields or through temperate forests; or discoursing amidst unnamed explosively erupting volcanic vents. These environments are suggested by the very thing then being discussed. Curious omissions: Europa, Ganymede, Callisto, Charon. Too much time: Terrestrial lifeforms.
CGI effects include: standing on one of Saturn’s moons ten to a hundred million years ago as it breaks up to form the rings; Curiosity arriving on Mars; looking over the enormous lava lakes on Jupiter’s moon Io; gazing across Sputnik Planitia’s frozen nitrogen plains on Pluto with adjacent ice mountains towering six kilometers; Huygens’ landing on Titan; seeing Cassini breakup in Saturn’s atmosphere; and the sun’s inevitable red giant phase.
As an arm-chair astronomy buff, I had not previously encountered thinking so vividly presented. The program kept me glued to the TV, with regret when it was over seemingly so quickly. Watched it immediately again!