March 25, 2014

#Cosmosfail, part 2

Edmund Halley and Isaac Newton, fit for Saturday morning
and kiddie cartoons. / Fox via Mother  Jones.
"Imagine" ... a TV show that gives you a full five minutes of dialogue before running more commercials! But doesn't have more money for either better animation or live actors to recreate ancient science. Maybe Ken Burns will do HIS version of Cosmos some day.

I hadn't planned on doing another blog post about Cosmos after my post-opening night one. But, after getting teased by a second episode that was seemingly better overall, per that paragraph above, about the Isaac Newton episode.

Besides, if you were able to do, and you had money for, the CGI dinosaur in the first episode, couldn't you do a CGI Newton and Halley rather than the Saturday morning cartoons?

Next complaint? The kid looking at the sky for comets at the end of the main Newton segment.

Oh, lordy, is that a paid product placement for Google Glass? That little clip was totally unnecessary in general.

As for Halley? People who know why the comet is named after him know he didn't discover a comet. A bit of a straw man there, though it was nice to see him otherwise get his due. That said, I know that the people is invented for people, especially children, with less science knowledge.

But, if you're going to give people their due, why not mention Leibniz's independent invention of calculus at the same time as Newton? For that matter, why not take a 2-minute digression to go from science to math to talk about how calculus, as much as Newton's laws of gravitation, were the start of modern science?

Oh, I forgot. It's been five minutes and we have to run another commercial. No time for calculus!

Nor did we have time to spend more time on Kepler as the world's first science fiction writer, which would have been another great sidebar.

Or to actually get past Cosmos' myth about "evil Robert Hooke" stifling "saintly Isaac Newton" and look more at reality and learn about Hooke. And, since Newton made the "standing on the shoulders of giants" quote, elevating him to a science rock star has extra irony. On the other hand, Newton's famous quote, per this io9 piece, may have been an early modern era example of heavy sarcasm.

And, if we want to talk about "major league asshole," per W. Bush and Dick Cheney, Newton was just as much of one to Leibniz on calculus as Hooke was to Newton on gravity, if not more so.

As for the final section of this week's episode, I don't think all astrophysicists are sanguine that life on a planet in one of two colliding galaxies would be in no danger.  After all, just a small gravitational tweak could produce an orbital change of note. I mean, if Earth were just 10 percent closer to, or further away, from the Sun than it is, or its orbit were just 10 percent more elliptical than it is, the history of life here would be far different than it actually is.

Maybe it's not so much the cartoons (though I still find them cheesy) as the cartoons versus CGI represent a diversity in styles. Or even a mish-mash. Or even a clash.

I'm thinking that it's also an audience focus issue behind that. A number of people have said how they like that this one seems pitched even to kids at times. While Sagan wasn't trying to talk over anybody's heads, he seemed to have a more consistent focus as far as target audience.

That said, some of the CGI is better and some is worse. The comet brightening from this episode was cheesy within the CGI. And, it's not like we couldn't, instead, start from stills of actual comets, whether Halley's or Ison, or use clips transmitted from the Rosetta or Deep Space satellites.

But, Tyson wants the graphics, to pull at heartstrings.

I guess this can now extend to a gripe about the CGI dinosaur. In the original episode, I questioned why Tyson didn't go filming something in the actual Burgess Shale, or find clips of a field crew at work there. Ditto on planetary astronomy. I want actual pics and video, not graphics, whether CGI or cartoons. What's the point in talking about science if you're not showing the actual science?

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