Beyond the Big Bang

The Universe
Season 1
14 episodes
See below for purchasing options
DVD & Blu-ray
"The Universe" episode no. 14 (season 1)
  • written by Matt Hickey
  • directed by Luke Ellis
  • edited by Nick Termini
  • science consultants Michio Kaku, James W. Ashley, and Geoffrey Landis

  • narrated by David Ackroyd
  • music by Aaron Symonds
  • Workaholic Productions, (c) 2007 A & E TV Networks
  • 1 documentary @ 90 minutes

Data Capsule Review

by Martin Izsak


It's a very bizarre thing for any television series to temporarily and suddenly have a big episode produced by an entirely different production company. But that's what we get here. We've got a different narrator, a different musician, and whole new set of writing/directing producers. The whole thing strikes a markedly different tone, noticeably more serene and laid-back. It could easily be mistaken for an entirely different show, if not for a final bit of the title sequence squeezing in like a post-production after-thought, with an edited and held-back snippet of the title music.


The first half of this double-length documentary seems to want to cover most of the same early-history-of-science-and-astronomy territory as Carl Sagan's entire series "Cosmos", even though it doesn't have the screen time to go into as much depth. Undaunted, it treats us to a cornucopia of interviewees. I'm really not sure why there are so many of them, or why they ALL happen to be men - and mostly elderly white males at that. The few exceptions (Kaku, Tyson, Tegmark, etc.) really stand out from the crowd in that respect.

Right near the middle, we have reached Einstein's time, and we begin to get a bit about his theories. It's not very deeply or profoundly investigated here. Strangely, his concepts are likened to an amusement park of wild rides, with a showman "marketing" Einstein's brain structure like a sideshow curiosity. Are we deliberately meant to distrust this character's information?

It's the post-Einstein bits in the second half that truly allow this documentary to contribute uniquely to a continuing series that explores science and astronomy regularly. We get a comprehensive view of the various people and theories and data that gradually stacked up until humanity felt sure that the big bang actually happened when it did, and what this meant for other scientific, philosophical, and religious explorations. What's more, a lot of the figures who were key to this "eureka" moment in history and the theory's further development are here being interviewed for the show, including Ralph Alpher, Robert Wilson, and Alan Guth. Alpher in particular knew a lot of the other figures, and can give first-hand insight into how their personalities helped shape events. Very good stuff this is, and unlikely to be repeated in quite so much detail anywhere else.

Charles Seife:
"The idea that you can predict something doesn't mean you understand the fundamental principles behind it.

Max Tegmark:
"Right now, `Dark Energy' is mostly a code word for our ignorance of what the substance is. Some people think it's some sort of stuff. Some people think it's a constant that should be in Einstein's equation. Some people think it's just a reflection of the fact that we might have gotten our gravity wrong... again."

Even though Max Tegmark is the last of the interviewees to be introduced, his interview is one of the better ones, and he ends up giving me my favourite quote of the episode. I tend to fall into the latter camp he describes, wondering if the mathematical need to have a dark something fill in the holes in the equations means that the theory of gravity or whatever has taken a wrong turn and hit a dead end.


Though I like this episode and feel it is a good one, it's ultimately not in contention to be one of my favourites of "The Universe". I tend to prefer the ones exploring planets and moons both in our solar system and beyond, offering less speculative theory and inadequately explained reasoning.


Chapter Breakdown:

  1. Introduction
  2. Begin with a Bang
  3. Ancient Observations
  4. Sun at the Center
  5. Dogma and Science Collide
  6. Power of Mathematics
  7. Einstein's Theory
  8. Expanding Universe
  9. Steady State Theory
  10. The Smoking Gun
  11. Inflation Theory
  12. Imagine the Future


Participants include:

Michio Kaku

Theoretical Physicist
City University of New York

Author of "Parallel Worlds",
"Physics of the Impossible"

Brian Greene

Professor of Math & Physics
Columbia University

Author of "The Elegant Universe"
made groundbreaking discoveries in superstring theory

Neil deGrasse Tyson

Astrophysicist,
American Museum of Natural History

Geoffrey Landis

Physicist
NASA / Glenn Research Center

Ralph Alpher

Physicist & Big Bang Pioneer

Robert Wilson

Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

Alan Guth

Professor of Physics
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

proposed the Theory of Inflation

Max Tegmark

Associate Professor of Physics
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Charles Seife

Associate Professor of Journalism
New York University

Marcelo Gleiser

Professor of Physics and Astronomy
Dartmouth College

James Peebles

Einstein Professor Emeritus of Science
Princeton University


also also wik:

Martin Rees

Astronomer Royal
Cambridge University

Nima Arkani-Hamed

Professor of Physics
Harvard University

John Polkinghorne

Physicist & Anglican Priest

Lawrence Krauss

Author of "Hiding in the Mirror"

David Leeming

Professor Emeritus, English
University of Connecticut

Wolfhard Schlosser

Professor of Astronomy
Bochum University

Simon Mitton

Author of "Conflict in the Cosmos"

Owen Gingerich

Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics



Rankings for "The Universe" Season One:

Favourite Episodes:

  1. Saturn
  2. Jupiter
  3. The Outer Planets (Pluto, Eris, Uranus, Neptune)
  4. Mars
  5. Mercury & Venus
  6. Search for E.T.

  7. Beyond the Big Bang
  8. The Moon
  9. Life & Death of a Star
  10. Secrets of the Sun
  11. Alien Galaxies
  12. Spaceship Earth
  13. Most Dangerous Places

  14. End of the Earth

Best Writers/Directors/What-Have-You's

  • Amy Huggins & Andrew Nock (Saturn, Jupiter)
  • Tony Long (Mars, Search for E.T., The Moon)
  • Luke Ellis (director - Beyond the Big Bang)
  • Matt Hickey (writer - Beyond the Big Bang)

  • Andrew Holland (Mercury & Venus, Alien Galaxies)
  • Douglas J. Cohen (Life & Death of a Star, Secrets of the Sun)
  • Louis C. Tarantino (director - Mercury & Venus)
  • Laura Verklan (Spaceship Earth, Most Dangerous Places, End of the Earth)
  • Jason Coffee (Mercury & Venus, Life & Death of a Star)
  • Brittany Graham (The Outer Planets)
  • Colin Campbell (Alien Galaxies, The Outer Planets)

There's a common theme to these rankings.... For this season, the episodes that focused on a single planet (or two) and its moons tended to gel fairly well and offer a good swath of information, while some of the others attempted to cover too broad a subject and didn't get a lot of interesting depth. Further seasons will rank differently, as the variety of subject matter becomes more greatly diversified....

Also, quite often the interviewees and the information they impart can really lift an episode up in the rankings, even when the writing of the narration is skewed and/or over-sensationalized.



This documentary has become available on DVD in North America, and more widely on Blu-ray.
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The Universe
Season 1 Box Set
14 episodes
U.S.

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U.K.




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Read the data capsule review for the next episode: "Alien Planets"



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