Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Cosmos Trek

One of the many articles about the new Cosmos series (Cosmos: A Space Time Odyssey) quotes a professor of science communications at Cornell (where Carl Sagan taught) saying that when he asks scientists between 30 and 60 years old to name something that made them want to become scientists, a "huge number" name the original Carl Sagan Cosmos series that first aired in 1980.  But I suspect a huge number also name one Star Trek series or another, especially if you widen the discussion beyond the hard scientists to engineering, computers, etc.  Or science fiction writers, like Carl's son Nick Sagan ,who wrote for a couple of 1990s Star Trek series.

So it shouldn't be too surprising that the new Cosmos project unites Carl Sagan's widow and collaborator on the original Cosmos, Ann Druyan, with Star Trek television veteran Brannon Braga.  He's executive producer of the series, and directed the first episode, seen recently on various Fox channels and available to view online  for the next month or so.

Most of the ink has been going to series host, astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson and The Family Guy's Seth McFarland, who spearheaded the project and took it to Fox.  Not even the usual Star Trek sites have noticed Braga.  (For Nubies, Braga was a writer and producer on Star Trek: The Next Generation, Voyager and Enterprise.  He also co-wrote two features, Generations and First Contact.)

But it's hard to miss the influence of Braga's Star Trek years, or at the very least, the plain old influence of Star Trek.  It's pretty obvious in what amounts to the title sequence, a zip through planets and cosmic dust that resembles especially the opening to Voyager, to music by Alan Silvestri (Captain America, Back to the Future) with strong hints of the Voyager theme, plus touches that remind me of the Insurrection soundtrack as well as other science fiction films.

Tyson begins the series by describing the scientific method that opens the cosmos to us all.  But his "spaceship of the imagination" obeys the non-scientific Trek standard of making plenty of whooshing sounds as it flies by.  The interior resembles the Enterprise D bridge, but before most of the stuff was installed.  The exterior reminds me of a flying Norelco shaver, but it's pretty cool anyway.

The visuals are mostly pretty spectacular (and suggest what a truly contemporary Trek TV show might look like) though the animation seemed comparatively crude, reminding me of the 1950s Disney Man in Space science shows.

I haven't seen the original Cosmos in awhile but I have the book.  There obviously is a lot of Sagan still in the series (he even gets a writing credit) and there's one of his classic lines in this first episode: "We are made of star stuff."  I still remember the way he said it, and it still sends chills down my spine.  I don't envy Tyson trying to figure out how he should say it.  Must have been quite a few sessions in front of the mirror on that one.

With only the book to go by, I notice that Sagan didn't make a big deal about Giordano Bruno as this episode did (he was the star of the long animation sequence.)  Bruno was the 16th century monk who had a vision of the universe (the earth revolving around the sun, our sun a star, one of countless stars with planets orbiting them) that was far ahead of his time.  The 2014 Cosmos goes into great detail about all the religions that persecuted and imprisoned him.  His burning at the stake by the Catholic Church is fully animated.  I'm not sure what the point was here, except to provoke the right wing Fox audience.  According to the ratings, they mostly weren't watching it.

Still, as long as I can stomach sitting through the same four commercials (for cars and high fashion cosmetics--who do they think is watching?) shown with increasing frequency online, I'll watch the rest.

Update: Here's James Downie at the Washington Post with a different interpretation of the Bruno sequence.  His point is well taken, but somehow the animation of Bruno being burned at the stake seems the more likely takeaway.

1 comment:

Stacy Lemery said...

Thanks for posting this. One of the first things that caught my eye during the opening credits was Brannon Braga's name. I yelled out to my roommate, "Brannon Braga worked on Cosmos! This is going to be awesome!" My roomie may not have shared my enthusiasm, but I am very excited for the new Cosmos, and I'm glad to see Braga is behind it.