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.