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 Post subject: Re: TV of 2013
PostPosted: Sat Jul 20, 2013 11:48 pm 
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Actually coming out next year, but Seth MacFarlane just tweeted this, the first trailer for COSMOS: A Spacetime Odyssey which will air on Fox and the National Geographic Channel.


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 Post subject: Re: TV of 2013
PostPosted: Sat Jul 20, 2013 11:54 pm 
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If anyone is going to fill Carl Sagan's shoes, it's definitely Neil DeGrasse Tyson


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 Post subject: Re: TV of 2014
PostPosted: Fri Sep 12, 2014 8:39 am 
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I loved Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey which was a wonderful, and extremely necessary, updating of the themes of the 1980 Carl Sagan series. Admirably up front in confronting and rigorously debunking current in vogue anti-scientific religious theories (especially in its evolution of the eye section of an early episode) and a lot of the climate change scepticism too (although this takes up the entirety of the penultimate episode, which I wonder was maybe done to allow that entire episode to get snipped out of a broadcasters schedule if they wished?), yet in its animated segments showing historical scientific developments it is also clear-eyed about human fallibilities that result in discoveries being lost or suppressed. As the great new presenter of the series, Neil deGrasse Tyson, says, even science isn't infallible and can be used (as in the lead in petrol section) to support bad agendas. It is up to everyone to challenge and understand more about the world around us rather than blindly following, or relying on others to act in our best interests for us. And it is also up to scientists to interact more with the wider world to bring the rest of us along with their discoveries. Yet despite all of this, long in coming for broadcast television, speaking truth to power, there is a sense of wide-eyed wonder there too at the world around us, and the myths that humanity has built to try and make sense of it, that always suggests that humanity can adapt and learn, even from its mistakes, and maybe reverse them.

I even loved that the final episode finds time to also debunk the myth of corporations acting in the best interests of society, and not just purely for short-term profit, something which gets dealt with in more detail in the documentary The Corporation!

So, on that note of challenging, the one thing that keeps me from fully enjoying this series is Alan Silvestri's musical score. The majority of it is beautifully lyrical but it does have an extremely annoying habit of going into an advert break with a sharp musical build to a sudden cut to black. (Presumably to artificially build tension?) This might not seem not too bad and a tiny thing to be annoyed by, but it gets extremely irritating when it happens five times an episode over thirteen episodes!


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PostPosted: Wed Jun 22, 2016 8:17 am 
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colinr0380 wrote:
I loved Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey which was a wonderful, and extremely necessary, updating of the themes of the 1980 Carl Sagan series. Admirably up front in confronting and rigorously debunking current in vogue anti-scientific religious theories (especially in its evolution of the eye section of an early episode) and a lot of the climate change scepticism too (although this takes up the entirety of the penultimate episode, which I wonder was maybe done to allow that entire episode to get snipped out of a broadcasters schedule if they wished?), yet in its animated segments showing historical scientific developments it is also clear-eyed about human fallibilities that result in discoveries being lost or suppressed. As the great new presenter of the series, Neil deGrasse Tyson, says, even science isn't infallible and can be used (as in the lead in petrol section) to support bad agendas. It is up to everyone to challenge and understand more about the world around us rather than blindly following, or relying on others to act in our best interests for us. And it is also up to scientists to interact more with the wider world to bring the rest of us along with their discoveries. Yet despite all of this, long in coming for broadcast television, speaking truth to power, there is a sense of wide-eyed wonder there too at the world around us, and the myths that humanity has built to try and make sense of it, that always suggests that humanity can adapt and learn, even from its mistakes, and maybe reverse them.

I even loved that the final episode finds time to also debunk the myth of corporations acting in the best interests of society, and not just purely for short-term profit, something which gets dealt with in more detail in the documentary The Corporation!

So, on that note of challenging, the one thing that keeps me from fully enjoying this series is Alan Silvestri's musical score. The majority of it is beautifully lyrical but it does have an extremely annoying habit of going into an advert break with a sharp musical build to a sudden cut to black. (Presumably to artificially build tension?) This might not seem not too bad and a tiny thing to be annoyed by, but it gets extremely irritating when it happens five times an episode over thirteen episodes!

Very good summation and review of Cosmos (2014), Colin. And, indeed, the score is very lyrical - too lyrical for my taste - almost as if they're trying to sell the story to children. I picked up both this and the Sagan series on dvd and I don't recall this musical approach on the original. In fact, I remembered the original series as having a complimentary balance of intriguing content and musical punctuation - but this is a quibble. The Sagan series remains one of my favorites on astrophysics despite the update. Perhaps it's his personal touch that sets it apart from the DeGrasse-Tyson update where Tyson is often emeshed in dazzling cgi.


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 Post subject: Re: TV of 2014
PostPosted: Thu Jun 23, 2016 9:19 pm 
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I must admit that I did want Neil deGrasse Tyson to get interrogated on exactly what kind of carbon footprint his magical 'ship of the imagination' was leaving behind, or whether it was working entirely on the environmentally sound powers of the human brain! But that's just a small quibble, I think.

In addition to thickly laid on musical scores I'm also usually someone who gets extremely irritated by science programmes ramping up the CGI-created awe to desperately keep the viewer's attention (or in historical programmes its now all about 'dramatisations' over talking heads, throwing out the scholars and getting an actor in to brood menacingly on a throne Games of Thrones-style while someone narrates the details of Genghis Khan's or Henry VIII's lusty life, or so on!). The BBC's Horizon series is often the most egregious offender for spectacle over actual content per minute, but really I think the big sea change happened with that awful Walking With Dinosaurs programme which was all about the CGI being presented under an 'educational', and therefore acceptable, pretext when really the 'pure entertainment' Jurassic Park (which Walking With Dinosaurs obviously was desperately wanting to be on a TV budget, albeit the first time a TV budget could afford vaguely believable CGI) provided more scientific ideas! Its watching programmes like these that I just think I'd rather be watching an actual, honestly 'fictional' cinematic film than one purporting to be a 'documentary recreation of the time' or something like that!

There's also the other issue of scientists being turned into celebrity figures - trying to be your favourite, vaguely groovy and with it teacher, say. That feeling of respect for a presenter seemed to usually come about naturally through the force of the argument but occasionally its as if the presenters are getting pushed by their production teams into either gazing in slack jawed-awe at something that will be green screened in later, or have to be wildly enthusiastic about something that they don't really have the time to properly explain, instead having to have their 'passion' and 'energy' serve as the proof that they are talking about something dreadfully important! Rather than contextualising that importance for the viewer more in a way that illustrates their knowledge of the subject in a more profound manner.

Plus there's also the issue with 'reality TV' infecting every other genre, so you cannot just have a science or history programme any more - you need people chatting to tourists outside the Eiffel Tower in Paris asking them about the significance of the landmark (which just makes it seem as if the entire programme is a McGuffin for the programme makers going on holiday somewhere!), or presenters competing with each other in order to win at tasks based around a particular experiment (which becomes less about the experiment and more about which 'team' has 'won' their challenge) and so on. Its the desperation of a television programme trying to keep hold of their audience's (perceived) short attention spans, which becomes a vicious cycle of reducing the content more (even turning disparate subject matters into interchangeably delivered pieces of content) and so leaving less there for a viewer to want to focus on in the first place!

The latest Cosmos series is very much a product of the current television landscape too, in that its showing elements of all of the above issues. Though I think one of the best aspects of it is that it continually threatens to go fluffy but keeps getting pulled back to its core themes. I guess that it also helps that its dealing with such a range of subject matter that there is little need for padding!

Gosh, that was quite a rant about something that I didn't feel I had strong feelings about until just now! Suffice to say that I'm probably not the best judge of things - my favourite kinds of science or educational programmes are roundtable discussions in which people just sit around and debate the issues! If the subject is interesting and the speaker engaging that is more evocative than any CGI dinosaur or ship of the imagination!


Last edited by colinr0380 on Mon Jun 27, 2016 10:49 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: TV of 2014
PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2016 7:27 am 
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That last bit about the speakers being engaging, in this instance, is probably a secondary consideration. Both Sagan and DeGrasse keep their intonations on a low frequency which can be a marvelous soporific if you simply need (like many people I know) the tv on to fall asleep. And that's the trouble if you're expecting the kind of theatrics that accompany contemporary "non-fiction" tv series. I find it's a lot like the BBC Shakespeare series in terms of purely surface pleasure; if you're not actually engaged it's a pleasant noise, but if you're attentive it engages faculties normally dormant with ordinary tv programming.

Television programming. Sounds so 50s. But its implications appear even more severe now. One of the best things about the initial Ernie Kovacs (my avatar dude) shows, speaking of the 50s, was his play with a tv viewer's expectations in a medium still in its infancy (though Orson Welles was probably right about it being mostly glorified radio).

At any rate, Netflix currently has the more recent Cosmos on instant watch. One of the more immediately recognizable improvements (imo) is the design of the ship of the imagination itself. I didn't realize how dominating the Carl Sagan version of the ship was until I revisited that series. In the remake the design is deliberately streamlined and takes a secondary position to whatever enviornment through which it moves. Perhaps it's an unintended focus on the innerspace of the cosmos which makes the original series a more compelling watch for me. Something to ponder.

Sagan's denegration of astrology is not only the typical scientist stance on the ancient practice but his argument and presentation of its contemporary influence is embarrassingly poor. You can't make a case for the invalidity of astrology by pointing out the proliferation of horoscope columns in major American newspapers. Sun sign indicators are the most generalized indicators of character traits influenced by a multitude planetary factors on any given day. If he had actualy presented a detailed natal chart based on a given individual's day and time of birth (and location), analysed what the various planetary aspects and indicators suggested and then looked at the actual character and events in that person's life he'd have to at least throw astrology in a different relief. As it is he virtually dismisses the practice as superstition and mysticism, unsuited to any practical application in contemporary life in the manner of astronomy. It's a misconceived and biased view that is smartly not repeated in the newer Cosmos series.

The Sagan caveat, of course, is that the series with him at the helm is subtitled, A Personal View, which is right in line with the idea of his version exploring more innerspace than the remake, though he'd undoutedly balk at such a reading.


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 05, 2016 9:02 pm 
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I do hate to keep kicking Alan Silvestri's soundtrack to the new series (its not terrible, just a bit bombastic!) but he was really going to have difficulty matching the Vangelis piece for the titles of the 1980 series! I wonder if Vangelis got the call for the series due to his wonderful Albedo 0.39 album a few years before? A number of tracks from that album end up featuring on Cosmos but the title track is still my favourite Vangelis piece! (I keep thinking that one day I'm going to have to create a 'spoken word' playlist of music tracks featuring speech)

I must admit to preferring the 'cosmic calendar' of the new series a bit more than the revisioned 'ship of the imagination' in terms of grand metaphors to hold the series together conceptually! Though the depiction of different eras of Earth's prehistory taking the forms of different wings of a museum in one episode was also evocative and entertaining too. I guess this is a difficult subject for a television series in that everything it is depicting, from the planets of the solar system, abstract concepts of physics and biology, dinosaurs and string theory, even the descriptions of pioneering people throughout history (presented in the form of animated segments) are all kind of intangible concepts that underpin the physical reality of the world in which we live, which cannot easily be captured outside of fanciful CGI. It takes a kind of imaginative leap, or at least an open mind, to make some of the mental leaps that the people being celebrated in the series are making. That's one of the strands of both series that is really worthwhile - not just explaining concepts of current thinking on how the universe works, but celebrating the thinkers who were often persecuted and destroyed because they were thinking beyond the age they lived (on a cosmic timescale even), yet who brought civilisation forward in so many ways. For a series about so many grand themes, the main one really is just to keep thinking about the world around you, testing hypotheses and being unafraid to challenge received wisdom, even your own received wisdom, on a subject. That's a message that always bears repeating.


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 05, 2016 9:11 pm 
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Don't forget that quite liberal doses of Gustav Holst's The Planets were used in the Sagan version. In his episode on Mars, for instance, Holst's Mars movement is almost entirely employed, if not repeated, for dramatic effect.
colinr0380 wrote:
It takes a kind of imaginative leap, or at least an open mind, to make some of the mental leaps that the people being celebrated in the series are making. That's one of the strands of both series that is really worthwhile - not just explaining concepts of current thinking on how the universe works, but celebrating the thinkers who were often persecuted and destroyed because they were thinking beyond the age they lived (on a cosmic timescale even), yet who brought civilisation forward in so many ways. For a series about so many grand themes, the main one really is just to keep thinking about the world around you, testing hypotheses and being unafraid to challenge received wisdom, even your own received wisdom, on a subject. That's a message that always bears repeating.

Yes, but I would say further to keep observing the world around you. The most accurate - and I would argue - far reaching discoveries seems to have been made by those who were great observers first. You can think until you're dead but observation yields discoveries, where thinking alone - as the series as shown - can lead you down some fairly strange roads.

It's another reason why I can"t understand Sagan knocking astrology. Serious astrologers (not horoscope column quacks) have traditionally based their findings on the observation of planetary movements not myth and superstition as many erroneously believe. Prediction is the business of fools and charlatans.


Last edited by ando on Wed Jul 06, 2016 6:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: TV of 2013
PostPosted: Wed Jul 06, 2016 1:33 am 

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domino harvey wrote:
If anyone is going to fill Carl Sagan's shoes, it's definitely Neil DeGrasse Tyson


Except that Sagan wasn't a square, unimaginative, bitter, pedantic, unlikable, browbeating crank. Sagan may have been the stoned Mr. Rogers of science education, but I'll take that over the narcissistic careerist know-it-all-isms of a man who really hasn't been involved in any interesting scientific projects in his entire life... okay, I guess he runs a planetarium (a planetarium, not even an observatory!), but so did Richard C. Hoagland (and at least Hoagland is entertaining).

Sagan was at NASA when NASA still meant something and when a little peculiarity was allowed, even encouraged. I bet Tyson would turn his nose up at the mere mention of someone like Jack Parsons (if he even knows who he is). Tyson is the typical result of the sort of "BoingBoing" "nerd" culture that demands respect for "science" but is really in love instead with commercial mainstream product and eager to please celebrity "intellectuals". Which is sad and pathetic because the work of the greatest living scientists is as close as the nearest library... but then I guess Freeman Dyson's face just doesn't look as "cool" as Tyson's on a T-Shirt.

Don't even get me started on Seth Macfarlane, who is to cartooning and humor what Tyson is to science.


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 Post subject: Re: TV of 2013
PostPosted: Wed Jul 06, 2016 11:37 am 
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firstlast wrote:
Except that Sagan wasn't a square, unimaginative, bitter, pedantic, unlikable, browbeating crank ...

I'm not Tyson's biggest fan, but some of these terms don't really seem to apply very well to his public/screen persona.


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