Are we alone in the universe? A thought-provoking question that has found expression in many forms over the years. Cinema has both approached the subject with dreadful fear with Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds” and with cautious optimism with Denis Villeneuve’s “Arrival”. TV series like “The X-Files” have done a phenomenal job of exploring the themes of extraterrestrial life and the Fermi Paradox with textured characters, scientific nuance and emotional resonance. As for documentaries, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Sometimes, you get winners like Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s awe-inspiring exploration of the universe in “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey”. Other times, you see stupid shit like “Ancient Aliens” on the History Channel.
The subject of life on other worlds has always been a difficult one to address from the perspective of a docuseries. Get too bogged down in the finer details on the conditions necessary for life and you’ll fail to excite the viewer’s imagination. Lean too heavily into the realm of speculation and CGI simulation and you run the risk of losing legitimacy. As of today, we’ve yet to encounter a documentary that strikes a fine balance of the two.
Now, however, Netflix has dared to throw their hat into the ring. To boldly go where no alien-centred docuseries has gone before. Boasting cutting edge CGI-simulations and hard science, Netflix’s “Alien Worlds” isn’t merely trying to explain the possibility of life on other worlds. It will attempt to realistically recreate how life could arise and evolve in other worlds! So does Netflix’s bold sci-fi nature docuseries stick the landing? Or will it crash and burn? Let’s find out.
The docuseries is a 4-episode long affair that tackles four different worlds, or exoplanets and the possibility of life on them. The opening episode, “Atlas” asserts its premise with a strong appeal to probability. With Nobel-Prize winning astronomer, Didier Queloz sharing his groundbreaking discovery. The first planet to be discovered outside of our local solar system, an exoplanet. After that brief but informative segment is where Netflix’s “Alien Worlds” begin to take off into the realm of speculative science. An important crossroad that will no doubt be polarising to viewers.
The many exoplanets discussed within the episodes are unfortunately not actual, identifiable planets. Rather, they’re very educated guesses about what the environment and ecosystem of various exoplanets might be like. Hardline objectivists may be turned off by the notion of exploring hypothetical worlds. Those with a far more imaginative and curious disposition, though, will no doubt welcome it with open arms. There’s a ton of wonder to behold here!
With impressive CGI work, “Alien Worlds” theorises how life may have arrived from different worlds. The episode “Atlas” talks about a planet with higher gravity compared to earth. It examines everything from the adaptation of local flora to weather patterns that may emerge from such a world. Then there’s the fauna, the main attraction of the circus! A good chunk of the episode is dedicated to exploring a particular species of the planet, the Skygrazzers. And boy, does it go the distance.
The episode goes into painstaking details to explain the physiology, behaviour and biological processes of these hypothetical creatures. It’s amazing how one scientific proposition can cascade into this vibrant discourse about something that may or may not exists. All this is, of course, is backed up by real-life fauna found on our planet. There’s one horrifying race of creatures known as the Generalists that envelope their prey by rolling them. No doubt the stuff of nightmares right there.
What keeps each episode from growing stale, is its unique ability to weave narrative threads into chapters. To be fair, it all feels like your standard circle-of-life story following an alien creature from infancy to adulthood and eventually to death. The same natural drama is played out throughout the second and third episode. As standalone features, they’re fine. However, they do tend to feel a tad repetitive when watched back-to-back. We recommend spacing each episode out, in days or even weeks. Just so you come in each time with fresh eyes and an appetite for wondrous new life and worlds.
Interestingly enough, the last episode of the series turns its attention to us, humanity. Conceptually, it was the episode we found the most intriguing. The number of high-concept speculative science fiction ideas tackled left us giddy with excitement. It’s one thing to see people reference theories like Dyson Spheres, terraforming technology and interstellar space travel. Getting a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the experimental technology to come drew us further down the rabbit hole. In a sense, it validated all the CGI simulations that were used so heavily in the previous episodes.
Right, let’s talk about the animation work on display. The creature design and environmental renderings are simply spectacular. The third episode, “Eden”, is by far the most visually impressive out of the lot. There were moments in which the line between fiction and reality was blurred. You’d honestly believe you were watching a different Earth animal scampering on screen. It’s also the most cinematic one as well, which again, could be a point of contention. It’ll either add to the immersive factor or break your focus. We’re fans of this approach and presentation, though.
Netflix’s “Alien Worlds” is a sci-fi fan’s dream come true! A magical experience that incorporates engaging storytelling, photorealistic CGI and strong scientific evidence in an effort to ignite the collective imagination. Its cinematic approach and speculative nature may be a drawback for some. For all you stargazers and wide-eyed explorers though, it demands your attention.
We sincerely hope that Netflix greenlights a second season. There is a myriad of interesting theories worth exploring. We’d definitely pay to watch a season dedicated to theorising what alien civilisations may look like in other worlds. Now, that would be a challenge to see how the series tackles the subject in a tangible way.
You can now catch the first season of “Alien Worlds” on Netflix today. Be sure to tell us your favourite episode and creature in the comments down below!