Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Can we make... an inappropriate cut scene?

I wasn't really planning on watching tonight's episode of Horizon, but I was sat in front of the TV and it came on after MasterChef, so I stayed seated and gave it a look. Now the reason I hesitate to watch Horizon is that I (like many people I've talked to) have got more and more frustrated with it over the last few years. It's gone from a respectable science program that was informative and inspiring, without being too stuffy and impenetrable, to a gimiky show that is more about fancy computer graphics, wierd camera work, controversial titles, and very little (and also badly presented) science content - this may be just the way you have to do things in TV these days (and I probably have a rose-tinted view of some of the way it used to be - in fact I generally preferred Channel 4's Equinox), but I doesn't seem a good method to present science to the public (and actually get them to be interested and learn something) to me.

Tonight's episode was entitled "Can We Make a Star on Earth?" and was presented by Prof. Brian Cox - the BBC's current go-to guy for physics related programming (he's already got at least a couple of other Horizon's under his belt). The program was essentially about investigations into using nuclear fusion as a future power source, as well as a fair amount of the background science leading up to fusion and our energy needs. I actually was rather surprised as I thought the program was pretty good, but with some reservations. The science content of the program covered a good deal of topics at a nice level and was generally well presented. The scientists that were interviewed were well chosen and did a good job explaining and enthusing about their subject. The experiments were impressively presented and you got a good idea of the challenges that they face. So the general things that I liked about how Horizon used to be were there. The problems came when they did pieces to camera - they just didn't work or add to the program. We don't need the bizarre camera angles and weirdly positioned shots (including strange almost subliminal close-ups of his food) and cut scences. We don't need the opening minutes of random pointless musings, which almost made me switch off. When Cox was just there as a narrator, or interviewing others, all was rather good and he can do it well, but when he's on screen they decide to take it too far. In reality I don't really think Horizon requires having a presenter - a good narrator can convey all the information as well as adding awe, excitement and perspective about the science being presented.

Seeing as I know exactly how the show should be I think the BBC should ask me to take over. I'm sure it would be easy... ;)


  1. Anonymous7:44 am

    Perhaps part of it is that we've got more knowledgeable over the years, so Horizon seems dumbed down.

  2. There's probably a small part of it were I see dumbing down just due to me knowing more, but that's not the main problem. Like I said, yesterday's episode, which was in a area where I knew pretty much everything on it, was rather good, covered the science well and at a good level (I assume it was a good level for the general public). However, last week's episode, which was on dreams (an area where I know very little), was done badly - it was an incoherent mishmash of what should have been interesting studies.

  3. Agreed about the preference for narrator rather than presenter - I have the same problem with nature programmes. The last thing I want to see in a programme about eg tigers is some extended close-up of the presenter's face wittering away about how great the tigers are, how wonderful and connected he feels .... I want to see the tigers! Grrrrr!