Saturday, April 19, 2008

DVDs for Alien Lovers

I thought that I'd just quickly mention a number of DVDs you can buy that (currently) provide the best speculative alien biology. They're not perfect by any means but are entertaining nonetheless.

Best of the bunch (visually) is Alien Planet (only currently available in Region 1 format). This is the two-part series that animated the creatures of Wayne Barlowe's Expedition book and features soundbites from such luminaries of astrobiology as Stephen Hawking, Michio Kaku and Seth Shostak. Visually, it looks great even though the CGI is a bit ropey (let's face it, we've been spoiled by Star Wars, King Kong and Transformers ... so anything below that standard looks ropey now). But it's better CGI than anything else on the market ... as you'll see below.

Next up is Alien Worlds: Blue Moon and Aurelia. This was a tie-in to the UK Science Museum's Science of Aliens exhibition and has people like Simon Conway Morris and other scientists discussing two hypothetical worlds they have created. The Blue Moon features Skywhales (Eek!), giant Kites and predatory communal Stalkers, while the steamy world of Aurelia gives us amphibious Mudpods and curiously Kiwi-like Gulphogs. Again, poor CGI but interesting viewing. However, like Alien Planet, it does work from the assumption that life on these worlds resembles life on Earth because the planetary conditions are similar. There is a book called The Science of Aliens by Jack Challoner (Prestel/Science Museum) that explains the science behind these creatures.

Best of the bunch in terms of speculation is Cosmic Safari, which was a series produced by the Learning Channel (part of Discovery) in 1999. Sadly, I can't find an English language DVD of this (although it was apparently released on video). It's a real shame because although the CGI is truly awful, the organisms presented were really inventive; silicon-based crystal trees, squat crawling high-gravity world starfish and stick-limbed, paper-thin aliens from low-gravity worlds. Great stuff.

Finally, I'll mention The Future is Wild. Not actually an aliens DVD, this is a series loosely based on Dougal Dixon's After Man book (Dougal did contribute to the series) and provides us with fanciful and largely credible ideas of what life on Earth could look like in three time periods: five million years from now, 100 million years and 200 million years. The CGI is okay (no better or worse than the others) and the science is mostly there. Apparently, some accuracy was sacrificed by the producers to create better visuals but, as an introduction to the whole area of spec biology, it's not too shabby.

Try one of them as an alternative to anything with Hugh Grant in it. You won't be disappointed.

Previously posted on my 'Worlds of Possibility' Blog.

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