I wanted to like the reboot of Cosmos. Really, I did.
Despite the patronizing materialism that kept cropping up in the old show, Carl Sagan covered some great subjects and excited the minds of a generation. Some of his most famous lines can still send a chill down my back. And today, at a time when cosmology is changing so rapidly that all astronomy textbooks more than a decade old are hopelessly out of date, when we are unlocking the secrets of the genome, finding the functions in the junk DNA, and hunting down the Higgs boson, there is no lack of material.
So here are my first impressions. The graphics are spectacular—someone has paid for top-drawer CGI, and the filming and production are excellent. Neil DeGrasse Tyson is stepping into an enormous pair of shoes, but he is an experienced presenter with clear diction, good range, and even a sense of humor; his work on NOVA set him up nicely for this show. The musical score is very well done, actually supporting the narrative without becoming overpowering. The purely descriptive parts of the science are fine, and even those of us who were sad to see Pluto lose its status as a planet could enjoy the trip to the edge of our solar system and beyond.
And then, there is the history of science. Or rather, there isn’t. There is some kind of imaginative story that has borrowed some names from the history of science and then struck off on a new track of its own.
Take this bit, from about 16 minutes in – and you’ll have to forgive any errors in my transcription: “Back in 1599, everyone knew the sun, planets and stars were just lights in the sky, revolved around the earth, and that we were the center of a little universe, a universe made for us.”
Stop the tape. [Read more...]