Alien Worlds

Narrator: Dr Armand Leroi
RRP: 19.99
Certificate: PG
Available 03 October 2005

Some of the world's leading research scientists, astrobiologists and astronomers gathered together to investigate and study two theoretical planets, Aurelia and The Blue Moon. Using data from the world's most sophisticated telescopes they begin the task of producing a physical profile of each planet, employing supercomputers to model the climates, seasons and even geological histories of the two new planets. What they find is astounding. Both planets are able to support life and could be inhabited...

Alien Worlds has to be about the most bizarre and, quite frankly, pointless excuse for a natural (or in this case unnatural) history programme I've ever sat through.

The programme makers brought together the world's (although that's questionable as they all seemed to come from the UK) leading experts in various fields, including astrobiology and astronomy, and asked them to come up with two very different planets and their indigenous lifeforms. In principle, in sounds like a fascinating project. Why not ask the experts what sort of life we can expect to find on Earth-like planets? However, the end result is not unlike what a group of drunken sci-fi fanatics would come up with if they were asked to design two planets to fit into the Star Wars universe.

The programme is just an exercise in sci-fi imagination. Did supercomputers really work out whether these creatures could survive, as indicated? Given the fact that the aliens are given conditions to live in not a million miles from life on this planet, why bother with the computers at all? One planet has stopped revolving (one half subjected to constant sunlight the other to total darkness) and the other is home to large flying creatures that could never get off the ground on Earth. The experts take conditions slightly different to earth and state, without a hint of irony, that life could exist in these conditions. Well done. It's a little like stating that life 'could' live on Earth when we already know that it does.

Another 'expert' walks us through the design of his creature (which looks not unlike a large featherless ostrich) and talks about it like he's totally inventing it from scratch. He states that it makes sense for it to have eyes at the front so it can see where it is going, and a brain near it's eyes (i.e. in a head) and then it will need long thin legs for running. The problem here is that he could be describing any one of a thousand creatures right here on Earth, and yet he's harping on as though he's created a totally new theory that no one has ever discovered before. Why, for example, does it even need eyes, or a nose? That's how life on Earth evolved, but would it really be like that elsewhere?

Another annoying aspect of these programmes is that they repeat themselves a little too often. Firstly the format of the show is identical - in fact, if you strip away the opening and closing remarks (which are identical for both episodes) and stop the doubling up of elements (like Dr Armand Leroi's to camera segments with the aliens and his explanation of how big the universe is) then you could easily have had the two planets in the same programme. Also, a lot of the CGI was repeated over and over again in each episode - no, flipping the image doesn't hide the fact that they're using the same footage either. It also doesn't help that the experts repeat the same arguments for both planets (for example that these creatures could very well exist somewhere in the universe, and the repeated Darwin theory of the evolution of life and how this must be the same across the universe).

And that was another problem - the fact that the experts kept insisting that life in other parts of the universe would adhere to the same laws that govern life on Earth. How incredibly arrogant, not to say backwards that theory is. How do we know that there aren't elements and gases in the universe that we've no knowledge of? Why is it they insist that our periodic table will be same across the universe? These could make other worlds very different places to live. While I appreciate that these would be a little difficult to create and bring to the screen, why not have them at least discuss the possibility.

The resulting aliens are not a million miles from those dreamt up for sci-fi movies like Star Wars. In fact Star Wars is a good point in question. I noticed several creatures that looked like they had been heavily borrowed from the Star Wars universe. These included the creatures the Gungan use for transportation on Naboo in Episode I; the Sarlacc from Return of the Jedi; and there's even a reference to the trash compactor monster from A New Hope (eyes emerging from water and then vanishing again).

I couldn't tell whether those participating in this experiment were taking the money and taking the p*ss, or whether they really did spend months creating a whale with wings that could fly. Come on? Couldn't they have come up with something a little more original. I can hear them thinking now: "I know... something big and in water... er... a whale! Great... now what can we have it do that's totally alien? Er... fly? Fantastic!"

In the end, all they really did was to take creatures that live on Earth and change them so that they seem a little wacky! Give an extra pair of legs to a duckbill platypus, and you have a whole new creature that a group of experts took months to create. Or how about this?... Give our creature a third eye! Wow, that's certainly alien!

Extras include a 28 minute 'making of' documentary (which is actually more interesting than the finished episodes); a trailer and some DVD Rom content which I really couldn't be bothered to examine - apparently it features fully interactive planet and alien profiles with CGI animation.

At the end of the day the whole project is very badly flawed, and the finished product is rather poor - certainly science fiction at its wackiest. I'd wait ten years to see what aliens (as predicted by the experts) we do discover.

Darren Rea

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