‘Cosmos’: Out of This World
Allie Tollaksen | Monday, March 17, 2014
March 9 marked the beginning of a new “Cosmos,” a continuation of or sequel to Carl Sagan’s beloved 13-part series, which premiered in 1980. This time around, “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage” is retitled “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” and features the beloved astrophysicist and science spokesperson Neil DeGrasse Tyson as its host. Like the original “Cosmos,” the series features a modern version of Sagan’s “Spaceship of the Imagination,” this time with Tyson traversing the universe with, of course, some seriously updated animation and information.
The show’s pilot updated Sagan’s spaceship and was a nod to the original “Cosmos” in many ways. Discussing the history of the universe, Tyson employed the “cosmic calendar” seen in the original program, scaling the time of the Big Bang to today in just one calendar year.
Along with our knowledge about the universe and life on Earth, other things have changed between the original and new “Cosmos.” While the original series featured compositions from Greek composer Vangeles, exposing him to an American audience, the new series employs an already-familiar composer. Scored exclusively by Alan Silvestri (“Forrest Gump” and “Polar Express”), the soundtrack to “A Spacetime Odyssey” is a beautiful accompaniment to the breathtaking animation of the Spaceship of Imagination soaring through the solar system.
But not all changes were as welcomed. Rather than live-action historical reenactments or basic descriptions of science history, the new show’s pilot featured artistic animation (think “The Tale of the Three Brothers” from the seventh Harry Potter movie) to tell the story of 16th century Italian Giordano Bruno’s vision of universe. This part ended up a little more distracting than informative, and due to its heavy criticism of the Church, received plenty of criticism itself.
The animation style works slightly better in the show’s second episode, where it is used to describe speciation and evolution in a scene with animated bears, and overall, the show so far has managed to blend old elements of Sagan’s original series with new science and technology rather impressively.
The pilot closed on a heartwarming note, with Tyson walking along a beach and speaking to the camera about the origins of life just as Sagan did three decades ago. Tyson not only gives a glimpse into Earth’s history but also discloses his history with Sagan himself and his origins as a scientist. Tyson tells the story of meeting Sagan as a young boy, explaining that he was not only an inspiration to the young, aspiring scientist, but a mentor and friend. With that, “Cosmos” doesn’t just revamp a classic, but pays homage to the scientist who convinced 600 million viewers around the world to tune in and learn about the universe in 1980.
It will be interesting to see how “Cosmos” tackles the variety of scientific topics Sagan covered in his original program and whether the show will draw and keep viewers in a time when seeing images of outer space isn’t as novel as it once was. In a recent interview with Parade, Tyson cited the popularity of scientific series, like “CSI” and movies like “Gravity” as evidence that an American audience is interested in something like “Cosmos.” However, the show’s executive producer Seth MacFarlane (yes, that Seth MacFarlane) has mentioned in recent interviews that trusting an audience to watch such a science-heavy series every week is risky.
However risky, both host and producer have stressed the importance of opening the eyes of audiences to not just the wonders of the world but the importance of scientific thinking, and for that “Cosmos” should be commended. And with two excellent episodes under their belt and a pilot that racked up a reported 17.5 million viewers, it looks like McFarland and Tyson have nothing to worry about.
“Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on Fox or can be viewed online at www.cosmosontv.com