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TV Review: BBC’s Wonders of the Universe (2011)

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Wonders of the Universe is a four-part television miniseries produced in 2011 by BBC, Discovery Channel and Science Channel and hosted by physicist Professor Brian Cox. It followed on from the successful series, Wonders of the Solar System, which aired in 2010.

WOTU has four episodes, each one hour long, with a cool name and a focus on a particular aspect of the universe.

The first episode, Destiny, talks about the time course of our universe: its origins, and its ultimate fate, and compels us to try to compare the eye-blink of a human lifespan to the epic timescale of cosmic events.

In Stardust, the second episode, Professor Cox discusses the elements of the universe and how they are formed through nuclear fusion in stars. This one’s more of a high-school chemistry lesson.

The third episode, Falling, is a contemplation of the effects of gravity across the universe.

The last episode, Messengers, addresses how the speed of light allows us to get information about the universe past and present, but also the limits to that information.

 

You’re probably thinking that, at one hour each, these episodes are lo-o-ong. And they are. They felt long, to me, and I often had to break my viewing up into twenty or thirty minute blocks, simply because I would become distracted or sleepy. The visuals/animations are quite breathtaking and beautiful, but the pacing is definitely a bit on the slower side. Cox as host is impassioned and excited, but the delivery of information is slow, in bite-sized morsels, and made to be quite easily accessible to the layperson.

If you remember most of high school chemistry/physics, and have a passing interest in astronomy, you’ll probably know most of the content of the documentary already. There was definitely some old material in there that had me yawning, but there were also a lot of facts that I didn’t know, which made it worth watching. I found episodes 3 and 4 most interesting.

The strategy of Wonders is to take the viewer to various exotic and obscure locations around Earth and draw analogies to phenomena in space, which is a pleasant journey. You get to tour Earth and space, all from the lazy comfort of your couch!

I’ve not seen Brian Cox host a show before, and I can’t decide whether I liked him or not. It took me a while to get used to his permanently smiling face, but his boyish delight in science definitely added to the appeal of the show.

Recommended if you want an aesthetically-appealing, not overly complex introduction to some of the major scientific concepts of our universe.

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Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

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What can I say about this movie? Rotten Tomatoes has already given it a 92% rating, and who can argue with that cinematic authority of spoiled vegetables? If you’re looking for a big, fun adventure in space, then get yourself a ticket to the 10th instalment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, stat.

I must admit I’ve been waiting for this movie for months. A ragtag ensemble of interstellar heroes, somewhat scruffier and edgier-looking than the clean-cut Avengers in their capes and spandex, reluctantly banding together to defend the galaxy to the classic tunes of Blue Swede’s Hooked On A Feeling…what more could one desire?

Guardians of the Galaxy tells the story of Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), a kid who gets abducted from Earth in 1988 by a gang of space pirates called the Ravagers and ends up becoming a carefree, womanising, wandering thief. After stealing a very important orb that attracts the attention of bad guys Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) and Thanos (Josh Brolin), a very big dude with a very big jaw who sits in a very big floating chair, Quill falls in with several other misfits: a green-skinned lethal assassin and daughter of Thanos, Gamora (sci-fi screen queen Zoe Saldana); a genetically engineered super-smart raccoon named Rocket (Bradley Cooper); Rocket’s devoted sidekick, Groot the living tree (Vin Diesel); and Drax the Destroyer, a tattooed muscleman hell-bent on revenge (Dave Bautista). Karen Gillan also plays a key role as Nebula, sibling rival of Gamora, a bald and blue-skinned fighting machine.

Guardians manages to pull off a perfectly wonderful mash-up of rock classics and science fiction which, along with the grungy-looking interior of Quill’s spaceship, and the futuristic but gritty technology, gives the movie a great sense of nostalgia and realism. It’s a rollicking, fast-paced adventure that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

There’s nothing much new or unpredictable about the story of Guardians. Frequent jokes tease mildly at heroic stereotypes but the plot ultimately doesn’t stray far from the sugary, upbeat staple of big budget productions. The highlight of the movie is almost certainly the delightful prison break scene. The visual effects, fight scenes and fantastical locations with grungy place names are also commendable. The final battle and resolution, though, fall a little flat.

What makes the movie worthwhile are the characters. Quill, also known as Star-Lord (mainly to himself), is a planet-hopping, rascally scoundrel of the Han Solo type, but more quick-witted than he seems. Gamora, unfortunately allotted the role of the “token girl” in the team, holds her own as a character with an intriguing past. The irritating, cynical and hilarious Rocket is also surprisingly poignant. Drax definitely had the best one-liners and impressive pan-faced delivery. And Groot—well, everyone falls in love with Groot: wholeheartedly sweet and innocent whilst being able to smash a dozen men against a wall with one twisty arm. Each of them have hints of a fascinating backstory.

My only quibble with sci-fi blockbusters is the relative sparseness of female characterisation. Gamora fills the shoes of the Strong Female Character well, but apart from her, the only women are Nebula, Nova Prime, Quill’s sickly mum and the bed-haired girl in a T-shirt whose name Quill couldn’t remember.

Nevertheless: lots of laughs, lots of action, and a feel-good romp through the galaxy. Worth a trip to the cinema.