Thirty-four years ago, famed astronomer, astrophysicist and science evangelist Carl Sagan took viewers across the globe on a journey through space and time with the television series “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage.” The series educated a curious public about the surrounding universe in a way that managed to be poetic, visceral and philosophical all at the same time and was at one time the most watched series in the history of American public television.
Now, Neil deGrasse Tyson, esteemed astrophysicist and educator, takes the reigns and seeks to teach a new generation in “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.”
“A Spacetime Odyssey” opens with Tyson standing upon the same cliff in Northern California where his predecessor and mentor Carl Sagan launched the original “Cosmos” in 1980.
“It’s time to get going again,” he says, as he whisks the viewer away on his “ship of the imagination.” This literal and figurative vessel is akin the the one Sagan explored the universe in a generation ago, albeit better animated.
Soaring from Earth, Tyson begins by giving the viewer a sense of humanity’s place in the universe. As he travels further from earth, he waxes poetic about Earth’s neighborhood, its “cosmic address.” Viewing humanity’s home from further and further away creates a sense of smallness, reminding viewers of the sheer immensity of the cosmos.
“Cosmos” then shifts gears, painting a history of humanity’s ambling toward the truth of a massive, expansive universe of which Earth is only a tiny cell. This storybook-style illustrated lesson shows that, above all else, “Cosmos” is about the universe in relation to the humans observing it. As Carl Sagan once said, “We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.”
All of this human history, as Tyson points out, takes place in the last moments of the last day on a great cosmic calendar. This visualization begins with Jan. 1 — the Big Bang, complete with a vibrant and expensive explosion — and ends on Dec. 31, in which the final moments encompass everything any human has ever experienced.
“Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” walks the line between education and inspiration. A high special effects budget and an epic musical score keep things flashy and exciting, while the poetic narrative creates a story for viewers to follow as they ride along with Tyson in his shiny imagination ship. While astronomy experts and enthusiasts are unlikely to find revolutionary or advanced-level learning here, “Cosmos” provides a way for the everyday human to know the surrounding universe and invites a new generation to get scientific.