Discovery’s next big docu-showcase, When We Left Earth: The NASA Missions, is another example of the technological limitations of contemporary TV criticism. The multi-night history of the space program, beginning Sunday night, arrived in my mailbox several weeks ago. From the portion I screened (when it became clear I wouldn’t be reviewing it, I couldn’t justify the time investment in watching the whole Titan-sized thing), I liked it just fine, even though I’m not especially interested in the Right Stuff-era history that the early part of the program focuses on.
But let’s be honest. The purpose of Discovery Channel long ago stopped being to teach you anything about anything. The purpose of Discovery Channel is to bring you things that look awesome in HD, and appropriately, the channel has been touting the wow factor of the HD-remastered archival footage: “Discovery Channel has transferred priceless original mission footage from NASA’s own secret film vaults to High Definition for the first time.”
And I’m sure it’s very wow. As far as I know. The problem is, Discovery, like most other channels, doesn’t send out HD screeners, and even if it did, I don’t have an HD DVD player to play them on. (I know, I know, but my employer doesn’t reimburse me for hardware, and like many people I wasn’t about to bet on Blu-Ray vs. HD-DVD until the dust cleared. Now that it has, basically, well, I’m still cheap.) Discovery did host press screenings, but for a review I don’t think it’s worthwhile to see a show in a different setting from its home audience.
Anyway, I’ll try to catch some of the series in HD, like a regular civilian, and see how it measures up. If it does, it could, like Planet Earth, be one of those shows that further prods more cheapskate late adopters like me to finally get an HDTV.
Hey, if the space program could convince Americans to buy Tang, it can do anything.