- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Here’s a look at a trio of digital video presentations geared toward science enthusiasts with DVD-enabled computers and home entertainment centers.

Alien Planet, from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, $14.99. This Discovery Channel show, based on author Wayne Barlow’s novel “Expedition,” merged science and fiction as it took viewers 6.5 million light-years from Earth to find life on a fictional planet.

The DVD has arrived with a minimum of bonuses but enough scientific star power and excellent animation to make it worth a look.

The 94-minute simulation presents a journey by sophisticated robotic ambassadors to the life-supporting celestial mass of Darwin IV. Brought to the screen through the computer and visual-effects wizardry of the team behind “When Dinosaurs Roamed America,” the program also incorporates interviews with well-known NASA researchers, biologists, paleontologists, physicists and, oddly enough, “Star Wars” maker George Lucas.

By following a pair of probes named Ike and Leo, viewers witness an odd variety of extraterrestrial creatures that gets more intense and bizarre as the show progresses. The survival-of-the-fittest dictum plays at its peak during an encounter between a moving landmass named the Groveback and an army of poison-tipped beach quills.

It felt weird to watch the scientists commenting about fictional life forms as if they were real, but the scientists almost always managed to sneak in a bit of relevant and educational information.

A nice set of extra interview snippets from Stephen Hawking, string theorist Michio Kaku, NASA Chief Scientist Jim Garvin and paleontologist Jack Horner round out the disc’s presentation. Unfortunately, no link to the wonderful “Alien Planet” companion Web site (dsc.discovery.com/ convergence/alienplanet/splash.html) is found.

Viewers should visit the content-rich cyber-stop after watching the program on their PC to find a gallery of the species, anatomical breakdowns of the aliens and a virtual voyage to the planet.

A Science Odyssey from WGBH Boston Video, $79.99. A whopping 10-hour science revolution greets viewers of this five-disc DVD set, which compiles the PBS series from 1998.

Broken up into a quintet of two-hour programs and hosted by the uninspiring Charles Osgood, the mega-documentary covers the 20th century through the areas of medicine and health, physics and astronomy, human behavior, technology, and earth and life sciences.

A mix of archival footage, primary-source documents, photographs and interviews with everyone from kidney transplant pioneer Joseph E. Murray to famed astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell touches on much of the problem-solving accomplished by researchers in the past 100 years.

Series highlights include Joseph Goldberger’s struggle to find the causes of pellagra; a look at George Ellery Hale’s Mount Wilson telescope; the origins of the computer; and classic video introductions to consumer products such as the oven, the blender and nylon stockings.

Computer-friendly extras to each disc are a link to the multimedia-rich, interactive A Science Odyssey Web site (www.pbs.org/aso) and a printable PDF booklet for middle school and high school teachers (or just for folks who want to learn) that perfectly supplements the very educational on-screen experience with hands-on lessons.

Imax Space Station from Warner Home Video, $19.99. Tom Cruise narrates this documentary on the International Space Station, the original 3-D presentation for the Imax mega-screen transformed for the home DVD system.

A single disc offers a 47-minute visual feast as astronauts and cosmonauts work together to build, work on and live in a massive station orbiting 220 miles above Earth.

The short main program is greatly supplemented with an optional commentary track from director Toni Myers and astronaut Marsha Ivins that is so informative viewers will mostly ignore Mr. Cruise’s narration.

Additionally, the disc contains a 20-minute “making of” feature; a photo gallery; and a pair of tours that cover the nuances of sustaining a working laboratory in space, narrated by crew members of the Expedition 7 and Expedition 4 missions, including a space shuttle launch.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002, or send e-mail (jszadkowski@washington times.com).

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