If you’re a cosmic-minded individual with a fascination for the 80’s and Neil deGrasse Tyson, look no further.
On Thursday evening, the McClung Museum held a screening of an episode from the 1980 series “Cosmos,” narrated by Carl Sagan, and an episode from the 2014 remaster of the series entitled “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey,” narrated by physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.
The two episodes were showcased in tandem with the exhibition “Science in Motion,” now on display at McClung. The intention of the film screening, according to the McClung Museum website, was for audiences to “join (them) for a screening that explores the use of contemporary film to bring complex, unimaginable science to a broad audience.”
Showed back-to-back with a brief intermission, the two episodes perfectly explained how the “cinema of science” has changed over time.
Displaying its datedness immediately with its contagious 80’s synth background music and its slightly grainy film quality, “The Lives of the Stars” started with a bang.
The first episode opened with a dramatic zoom-in of a green apple … and then, SLICE! The slash of a knife cut through the apple. The episode then showed an apple pie being baked in an oven, which was delivered to none other than Carl Sagan, aptly dressed in his vintage red turtleneck and tan velvet blazer.
Right off the bat, Sagan compares the apple pie to an atom – and the episode has officially begun.
Since it was made in the 80’s, the filmmakers heavily relied on physical models and hand gestures to explain difficult scientific concepts to the audience. Sagan goes from unraveling a sheet with the full quantity of a “googolplex” to traveling to a cave in the southwestern United States to show an 11th century drawing of a star exploding.
“The Lives of the Stars” was really informative despite its old-fashioned visuals. Having an interest myself in the cosmos, I found Sagan’s explanations and the physical models of the hard to grasp phenomena to be quite helpful despite his awfully monotone voice.
Something I found interesting was the animated visual of the inside of a black hole, followed by a real-life model, which was an endless series of three-dimensional grids within themselves. If you’ve ever seen “Interstellar,” you would immediately recognize that this was how the black hole was explained in the blockbuster film.
Carl Sagan later explained what the end of our Earth will look like, which is always both fascinating and terrifying to hear about. He ended with the profound line, “Our matter and form are determined by the cosmos.”
2014’s “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey”
A much shorter episode entitled “Hiding in the Light,” Neil deGrasse Tyson’s take on the cosmos felt like listening to a history lecture while transcending into another universe. The audio and visuals were almost too good.
Of course, the 2014 episode had a much larger budget than the 1980 one, but it really went above and beyond with its production. At times, the experience was almost overwhelming, especially when watching on an auditorium screen.
“Hiding in the Light” relied mainly on animations of important moments in history regarding different “masters of light,” as deGrasse Tyson called them. We traveled from China to Iraq and Bavaria with famous physicists and learned about their discoveries.
One thing that the viewer would learn from this episode would be that Joseph Fraunhofer was an important guy. Although I had never heard of him before, the Bavarian orphan experimented with prisms and discovered something that made deGrasse Tyson a bit emotional – astrophysics.
Black lines were shown in the spectrum of colors that Fraunhofer saw through his telescope on a prism; these black lines were explained by deGrasse Tyson to be astrophysics, which sounds very exciting, but I could probably only wish to understand it.
My personal favorite part of the episode was when Neil deGrasse Tyson described sound waves. There was an ornately designed church in which an organ player played a powerful piece, the visual effects depicting sound waves moving with the music.
For the finale, “Hiding in the Light” displayed the skyline of New York City with changing types of light, from infrared to gamma, as a beautiful orchestra piece was played in the background. Now how’s that for an ending?
All in all, the experience was very enjoyable and informative. The “Cinema of Science” did a great job at explaining confusing concepts with the use of film, in both the 1980 and 2014 versions.
If you’re looking for something that would be more likely shown in a high school science class, Carl Sagan’s series is your best bet. However, if you want a cinematic experience that keeps you on the edge of your seat, Neil deGrasse Tyson can really sell it.