Our Universe, review: a bizarre mash-up of natural history and space science

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Morgan Freeman narrates Netflix’s new series, which feels as if it’s two shows spliced together

Our Universe, review: a bizarre mash-up of natural history and space science
Morgan Freeman narrates Our Universe
Morgan Freeman narrates Our Universe CREDIT: Netflix

You can imagine the Netflix meeting that led to Our Universe. “We need to make something like the BBC’s Planet Earth. But bigger.” The result is a weird mash-up of natural history and space science, and it doesn’t work.

We’re introduced to some elephants – this is the kind of wildlife programme in which the cute baby animals are given names – and follow them on their annual journey away from the Okavango Delta in search of watering holes. But a few minutes in, narrator Morgan Freeman (last seen at the World Cup opening ceremony) informs us that water may be rare here in summer but “if we search beyond the shores of our own planet it’s rarer still – deserts are nothing compared to the rest of our solar system”. And then we’re off to the frozen moons of Saturn.

Penguins in South Georgia are linked to an explanation of gravity. There’s an episode connecting cheetahs and nuclear fusion. It’s as if we’re watching two entirely different shows that have been spliced together. Here’s a lesson on how the first raindrop was created four million years ago; now back to the savannah, where one of those adorable baby elephants is about to become a lion’s lunch.

The natural history bits are nicely shot – the series is made by BBC Studios, the corporation’s commercial arm – and the science bits are done with expensive CGI. There’s a stirring soundtrack and, thanks to the Netflix subtitles which my children always have on and for this viewing I couldn’t be bothered to switch off, we can tell exactly what emotions it’s supposed to stir. The captions spell it out: there is pensive/melancholic/tranquil/solemn/dramatic music playing, to signpost how you should be feeling about any given scene.

Just when you’re thinking, hmm, I wonder which one of those wildebeest is going to get eaten, Freeman switches to the science bit and informs us that the Sun will run out of fuel in five billion years and devour neighbouring planets. So that’s Netflix trumping David Attenborough and his warnings about climate change disaster.

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