REVIEW: ‘Alien Worlds’ is Science Fact and Fiction

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Alien Worlds

Alien Worlds is a hybrid between a sci-fi series and a nature documentary, combined into a four-episode limited series on Netflix. The series is narrated by Sophie Okonedo. The show focuses on taking attributes of our own planet and theorizing how changes in atmospheres and celestial circumstances may affect how life would be altered on other planets. The documentary will take footage of animals and nature on Earth, then cut to a fictional planet and a unique world per episode. The alien creatures will have adapted to their own environment while still being similar to their real counterparts. 

The alien worlds are stunning in their design, beautifully rendered to be photo-realistic in their landscapes. Some of them appear to have used locations on earth then been recoloured and digitally doctored to look extra-terrestrial. Each of the four is jarringly different, with details that represent the scientific theme of the episode. The best example of this is Eden, a lush planet covered in plant and animal life. Huge rainforests have grown there, which has been enriched by the energy created by the two suns the planet orbits around. 

The animals that litter this world are fantastic representatives of the advances in visual effects within television series. Each being has individual characteristics and movements. They have evolved to fit the concept of the planet they live on. On Atlas, where gravity is double that than it is on Earth, seeds are able to float in the air due to molecules packing tightly together. The documentary makers designed a flying creature that never has to land, able to permanently stay afloat.

The flying creatures use thermals (also known as updrafts) to fly and glide around their atmosphere. To demonstrate this further, the documentary cuts to Earth, where a paraglider uses the same techniques within his own profession. This combination is ingenious, as it brilliantly explains the phenomenon on our planet by presenting it, then exaggerating it for the sci-fi element. This method arguably makes it easier to understand when it is pushed to an extreme. The end result is both clips are fascinating to the audience.

The cinematography used on Earth is superb in its own right, becoming more of a stereotypical nature documentary. These large panning shots, showing massive landscapes in all their natural beauty, presents the world we live on as just as beautiful as the ones created on a computer. As the segments progress, a large variety of locations are visited before being replicated a universe away. The countries and regions include Trinidad, Scotland, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Mexico, and dozens of others. It truly feels like global coverage. The ecological diversity that is possible on this planet yields much potential for inspiring whole new planets.

Every hypothetical aspect of the extraterrestrial planets has an original basis in science. Whilst there are features similar to sci-fi films, they are all just heightened versions of the forces that occur in our own world. But every planet has an alteration to it that scientists have proven exists in space. There are planets that are extremely hot on one side while below freezing on the other, or have more gravity than Earth does. The one thing we have not proven yet is the existence of life. So while there is license taken for dramatic and entertainment purposes, it feels like it came from the mind of a scientist, not a fantasist. 

Each educational section in Alien Worlds is led by an expert in a field. For the most part, they are scientists, but their specialties result in a broad spectrum of opinions and voices. Ecologists and biologists and astrophysicists have the most representatives. But what this series does really well is showing how each of those areas of study can be narrowed down. For example, for a piece on scorpions, the documentary follows Carlos Santibáñez-López, who is an evolutionary biologist. This then leads into a scene on one of the alien planets about a creature who has evolved to survive in extremely harsh conditions. 

It is also important to note that it is not just people of science that are called upon to entertain us. As mentioned before, a paraglider is one of the first we see. And in one of the most fascinating pieces, members of an Indigenous tribe explain how they have a symbiotic relationship with a bird in order to find honey in Tanzania. Each segment is then adapted in space. 

Alien Worlds

All of the figures and interviewees are interesting and easy to listen to. One of the most entertaining is the first person on screen. Didier Queloz is a Swiss astronomer, dubbed by the narrator as a superstar physicist. He was the first person to discover a planet outside of our solar system. His purpose within Alien Worlds is to explain what planets are and how they were discovered. But he speaks with excitement, singing to himself as he places sticks in the ground to build a diagram. This warms the audience to him instantly. 

Kennda Lynch, an astrobiologist, openly weeps in awe as she sees the Danakil Depression in Ethiopia for the first time. The passion and devotion that these people have in their subjects give what they are saying so much more weight and meaning. 

Narrator Okonedo’s voice is very calm which fits the slow pace of each episode, but also gives a sense of incredulity to the fictional events taking place on the screen.

The biggest downside with this series is that the novelty very quickly wears off. Once the audience has finished marveling at the beautiful special effects in each episode, it soon becomes easy to see flaws. There are times when clips are recycled, being used multiple times within the same episode. This can lead to a sensation of dejá vù. It is probably a good thing that only four episodes were created, as the audience may become disinterested after that.

Alien Worlds is a stunning documentary series that is a fusion between Planet Earth and Cosmos. It is truly a show that could only have been created in the Space Age. It contains magnificent achievements in computing and technology within filmmaking, with perfect creature and world designs. These advances can be seen in the methods used to film the Earth as well. And all of this is based on the discoveries made a diverse sample of the most brilliant minds this planet has.

This is a fantastic series for all ages, but it is perfect for a younger audience. This is an excellent method for getting children interested in not just what is out there in the night sky, but the wonders of their own world as well. 

Alien Worlds is available on Netflix.


Alien Worlds
  • 8/10
    Rating - 8/10
8/10

TL;DR

This is a fantastic series for all ages, but it is perfect for a younger audience. This is an excellent method for getting children interested in not just what is out there in the night sky, but the wonders of their own world as well.