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Alien Worlds (2005)

review by Alasdair Stuart

With the astonishing success of the Walking With... franchise still continuing, Channel Four take the concept in a new direction - into space. A group of ten scientists combined established scientific fact with CGI fiction to imagine what life could look like on other worlds.

What could so easily have been little more than an exercise in CGI wizardry is raised far above that by the sheer audacity of the worlds that have been developed. Split into two hour-long episodes, Alien Worlds examines two different directions life could take, walking the viewer through every aspect of the ecology and grounding it in scientific fact.

Aurealia, the first world explored is, in retrospect, a little disappointing. The eco system is unusual, with animals becoming plants and a race of large, bird-like creatures dominating the planet, but ultimately it's a little too pedestrian. The work done here is impressive and the eco system is designed from the ground up, small creatures called Mudpods providing both food and a foundation for the environment, but ultimately Aurealia feels a little too much like a standard science fiction world.

Blue Moon however, is a dizzying, hugely impressive world. Here, the scientists have modelled a planet with an atmosphere so thick that huge 'sky whales' swim through it, feeding off airborne plankton. Far beneath them, kilometre-high trees catch water in their upper, pond-shaped branches.

From the kilometre-tall trees to the bioluminescent predators that roam its surface, Blue Moon feels completely alien and is an utterly intoxicating place to visit as a result. The ideas on display here are genuinely unusual and it's difficult not to suspect the scientists had a great deal of fun coming up with this world. Whether it's the immense kite shaped predators that tether themselves to the trees, the sky whales or the scavenger hordes that feed on them, Blue Moon is a truly alien, truly memorable world.

Backed up by a making-of documentary and alien profiles, the DVD release of Alien Worlds is a winning combination of fact and fiction. The effects range from good to excellent, the science is sound and there's a real sense of wonder to the whole thing.
Alien Worlds

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