‘Alien Worlds’ covers old ground in search of the new

‘Alien Worlds’ is now streaming on Netflix. (Supplied)
‘Alien Worlds’ is now streaming on Netflix. (Supplied)
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Updated 07 December 2020

‘Alien Worlds’ covers old ground in search of the new

‘Alien Worlds’ covers old ground in search of the new

LONDON: Falling in that sweet spot between CGI-heavy blockbusters and real-world documentaries, speculative science fiction must tread that finest of lines — how do you posit what the fantastic might look like without abandoning all sense of relatability?

In the case of Netflix’s “Alien Worlds” — a new, glossy four-part miniseries that asks what life might look like on other planets — it’s with a healthy dose of science fact to back up the fiction. So with each episode, the show flits between interviews with Earth’s leading experts (to explain how life developed on this planet) and high-concept sequences that take those trends and patterns and apply to them to imagined planets in the furthest reaches of the galaxy.

The results are, at times, truly spectacular — in the purest sense of that word. “Alien Worlds” paints four potential planetary ecosystems in cinematic fashion, creating sweeping vistas that feel alien yet familiar, fantastical yet feasible. From adaptable pentapods to lemur-like predatory beasts, the creatures that inhabit the titular worlds are realized in spectacular CGI, and British actor Sophie Okonedo’s engaging narration lends a suitably Attenborough-like feel. 

The biggest failing of the show is its all-too-visible limits. Sure, the sequences showcasing each of the four possible planets (and their inhabitants) are great — but they’re also repeated ad nauseam. The pentapods look incredible, but decidedly less so when you’ve watched the same 15-second sequence for the fourth time. And the disappointment when you realize that the familiar shot you’ve just seen of a sprawling society of highly evolved creatures is the same as the previous one (just flipped from right to left) takes the shine off a series that’s all about gloss. 

There are some great moments at the heart of “Alien Worlds” — though, ironically, some of its Earth-bound segments don’t necessarily bring a lot of new information to the table — but, for a show purporting to think beyond traditional limits, it feels a little short on fresh ideas.


What We Are Reading Today: Blood, Powder, and Residue by Beth A. Bechky

What We Are Reading Today: Blood, Powder, and Residue by Beth A. Bechky
Updated 22 January 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Blood, Powder, and Residue by Beth A. Bechky

What We Are Reading Today: Blood, Powder, and Residue by Beth A. Bechky

The findings of forensic science — from DNA profiles and chemical identifications of illegal drugs to comparisons of bullets, fingerprints, and shoeprints — are widely used in police investigations and courtroom proceedings. While we recognize the significance of this evidence for criminal justice, the actual work of forensic scientists is rarely examined and largely misunderstood. Blood, Powder, and Residue goes inside a metropolitan crime laboratory to shed light on the complex social forces that underlie the analysis of forensic evidence, says a review on the Princeton University Press website.
Drawing on 18 months of rigorous fieldwork in a crime lab of a major metro area, Beth Bechky tells the stories of the forensic scientists who struggle to deliver unbiased science while under intense pressure from adversarial lawyers, escalating standards of evidence, and critical public scrutiny. Bechky brings to life the daily challenges these scientists face, from the painstaking screening and testing of evidence to making communal decisions about writing up the lab report, all while worrying about attorneys asking them uninformed questions in court.