An unprecedented mission with the power to change our world.
On paper, To Catch a Comet has everything I look for in a good documentary. There’s a subject I’m interested in (space), there are plenty of intriguing visuals comprised of video, photography and CGI, and a genuine opportunity for learning.
Over 10 years ago, the European Space Agency embarked on quest to do something no other team of scientists has ever been able to do. Their goal was audacious to say the least — they wanted to land a space craft on a moving comet. To Catch a Comet focuses on the last year of the mission of the long range space orbiter Explorer Rosetta and its lander Philae, which ended in November 2014.
The idea behind the mission was to study comets in a way never before achieved. The hope was that by landing on a comet we would learn more about their makeup and in doing so answer one of the greatest questions science has yet to answer. We’ve learned from other missions that comets have been known to contain at least one amino acid, and Rosetta’s mission was to see whether or not more amino acids could be found within the comet’s makeup, which is important because it lends credence to the theory that comets crashing into earth may have seeded the planet with the building blocks necessary for all life.
So what could possibly compromise this disc’s mission to earn a recommendation? To Catch a Comet falls short for a very specific reason: I anticipated getting more out of the mission than I was presented with. The main issue for me is the lack of applicability to my life, especially when I hear that the mission cost over a billion dollars. When you throw around an amount like that I get curious why that sum is necessary. I understand the point of the mission is to determine whether or not comets have within their structures the amino acids necessary to cultivate life. I also understand answering that question will lend credence to the theory life on Earth was seeded by crashing comets depositing said acids. What I don’t understand is the future application–if indeed there is any? I want to know why I need to know whether or not these issues are proven. What affect will it have on life as we know it?
And To Catch a Comet is unable to provide any sort of closure for viewers. The ending is quite abrupt, failing to answer any of these questions or indeed leave us with anything about the future aside from some vague generalizations and hope for future progress. There is a definite tonal shift to signal the end is near. It feels rushed and though there are reasons which could be argued are necessary it’s still very jarring. To Catch a Comet fails to stick the metaphorical landing in terms of the story it’s telling and doesn’t earn a recommendation.
In terms of the technical specifications, a little bit more editing and color timing was done to this than the typical PBS documentary and it’s a welcome change as the deep space pictures especially are seen in their best light. No distortion, grain, or other issues plague the typical 1.78:1 transfer. The audio is a standard Dolby Digital 2.0 track and there were no audio issues to speak of: no hollowness, no echoing, and no garbled levels. There are a liberal amount of subtitles supplied so there should be absolutely no issues in terms of understanding what’s being talked about. All in all a very serviceable track which does its job well.
There are no special features.
If you happen to catch this (ha!) on PBS then it’s worth a look but I wouldn’t go out of your way to track it down. To Catch a Comet still has a ways to go with its subject and you’ll be left wanting answers no one has…yet.