Just wanted to note a few thoughts regards Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, which has just completed its thirteen-episode run on National Geographic over here in the UK. The original Cosmos, co-written and presented by the late Carl Sagan, had a profound affect on me back in 1980 when it aired here on the BBC. It remains, after all these years, my favourite documentary series, and I must admit severe misgivings when I heard that the series was being, well, rebooted for modern audiences. Yep, there’s that dreaded ‘reboot’ word again.
Cosmos dates back to the pre-personal computer age, a world before VHS or DVD, back when shows were accompanied by lush hardback books- yes, we had to read back in those days. I remember having the double-album soundtrack on vinyl (a remarkable compilation of Classical/Traditional/Electronica) and reliving the series reading that book. The series itself was repeated once, the following summer I believe, and I wouldn’t be able to see it again for many years, until I imported the DVD boxset from the USA.
Okay, some of it may have dated presentation-wise, and some of the science itself may have dated too, but much of it still holds up remarkably well, particularly in the use of that haunting Vangelis main theme (taken from the earlier RCA album Heaven & Hell) and Carl Sagan’s own powerful onscreen personna. He had a gift for explaining things, and it never felt he was talking down to me. For its time it was a visual delight. It must be remembered that the world that Cosmos first aired in was very different to what it is now; still in the thrall of the Cold War and threat of global nuclear destruction. It remains a powerful document of the world as it was back then and had a powerful political pro-science message.
So my initial thoughts were, do we really need a new Cosmos? Can you still make a Cosmos today without that uplifting Vangelis theme or Sagan himself? Watching the first few episodes my caution seemed well founded. The Alan Silvestri original score was fine enough but it wasn’t as poetic or unique as Vangelis, the original score giving it a unique voice, yes, but lacking the lush classical music of the original, and Neil deGrasse Tyson clearly was no Carl Sagan. Loosely following the original’s thirteen-part format and storyline, with a modern take on the original Spaceship Of the Imagination in which Sagan explored the universe, and the Cosmic Calendar that so astounded me back in 1980, the show just felt ‘off’ to me. Turns out I may have been too busy comparing it to the original that I loved instead of enjoying it for what it is, but by episode four I had warmed at last to Tyson’s personable presenting style and accepted the changes, such as the animation sequences depicting historical events. By the time episode thirteen closed, with its emotional summation of Voyager’s journey beyond our solar system, and Carl Sagan’s own monologue regards the Pale Blue Dot we call home, I was truly impressed.
Spacetime Odyssey does an admirable job of using cutting-edge CGI to explain scientific concepts and arguments in ways that Sagan would be proud of. Clearly aimed at a wider (and younger) audience than the original show was, it was still a joy to see things I was well aware of being demonstrated in fresh and clear ways. I can imagine this series being as profoundly effecting on youngsters today as the original was on my generation and Tyson being as inspiring a figure for kids today as Sagan was for me. A Blu-ray boxset is out now in the US with a release over here later in September. I may have been a sceptic at first, but I’ll be buying the Blu-ray when it comes out and enjoy watching the show all over again.
Word has it we may even get something the original Cosmos didn’t- a second series. Hopefully if it happens it will be able to examine subjects in greater detail and show ever-more complex ideas. But yeah, not a bad effort.