Perhaps more relevant today than ever, the Visual Entertainment Inc. DVD label has released "Arthur C. Clarke: The Complete Collection", a 52 episode boxed set containing 22 hours of programming. Why is this set more relevant today than ever? Because in his prime, Clarke and his fellow prominent scientists and intellectuals were held in great esteem by the general public. Today, however, vast segments of the world's populations are intent on downgrading the importance of science in place of fanatical religious dogma. Fortunately, for the majority of people of faith, science does not exist in a mutually exclusive universe. Nevertheless, there is an undeniable trend in some quarters to pretend that established fact does not exist, especially if it offers some inconvenient contrasts to what these people want to believe. This anti-science slant is not restricted to fringe religious groups. Our popular culture reflects widespread belief in things that once would have been considered highly speculative by most mainstream audiences. Thus, we have shows in which a Long Island housewife is paid a fortune to pretend she is a medium from Long Island and others that have self-proclaimed "ghost hunters" trying to convince the average person that their home is haunted. Arthur C. Clarke, the esteemed scientist and author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, tried to elevate discussion of the mysteries of life by keeping an open mind while also providing a skeptic's viewpoint. Now as a skeptic myself, I must admit I am often viewed as the skunk at the garden party when it comes to attempting to bring logic into conversations with people whose minds are made up that aliens are routinely abducting innocent earthlings or that religious miracles are occurring every day. Many people are as committed to their comfortable beliefs as they are to political ideologies and they don't want to allow any viewpoint into their lives that might cause them to rethink such positions. Clarke wanted people to constantly challenge their own belief systems. From 1980 through 1995, he hosted period series of TV programs designed to explore the great mysteries of science and nature. The new DVD set is as enlightening today as it was when these shows were originally telecast on British television.
The set is broken down into three different programs. Here is the description from the official press release:
"Hosted by acclaimed sci-fi
author Sir Arthur C. Clarke (2001: A Space Odyssey), Arthur C. Clarke: The Complete Collection
investigates the inexplicable, abnormal and mind-boggling wonders of the world. Included in the set are three
popular, documentary series originally aired on Britain’s ITV network. Mysterious
World (1980), narrated by author, actor and newscaster
Gordon Honeycomb (Then She Was Gone, The Medusa Touch), looks at unexplained
phenomena from Stonehenge to the Loch Ness Monster. Narrated by English journalist Anna Ford, World
of Strange Powers (1985) investigates goose bump-raising paranormal
activity from haunted houses to magical spirits. Mysterious Universe (1995),
narrated by British TV personality Carol Vorderman, examines mystical secrets
from the ancient world. In each episode, Clarke tackles
the daunting task of finding a reasonable explanation for some of the most
bizarre phenomena ever known to mankind from such “mysteries of the first kind”
as solar eclipses to the more inexplicable, including messages from beyond the
grave, the stigmata, lost planets, UFOs and zombies … Making Arthur
C. Clarke: The Complete Collection a must-have for every science-fiction
Clarke bookends every episode with an introduction and an epilogue, though he occasionally appears in the program itself to offers opinions and insights, treating people on both sides of an issue with dignity and respect. Each segment is fascinating and educational, ranging from topics that include the great achievements of the ancient world to seemingly inexplicable phenomenon. Clarke presents compelling arguments on all sides regarding the matters at hand but clearly relishes exposing some theories such as faith healing as the fraudulent practices they are. (One must admit, however, that the footage of these "miracle workers" performing is quite convincing on a certain level - until they are ultimately unveiled as charlatans preying on the most vulnerable members of society.) Clarke's presentation of other phenomenon such as the Abominable Snowman features thought-provoking insights from serious explorers who were convinced that there could be some actual unknown beast in the Himilayas. Clark acknowledges that, based on his study of the evidence, it might be possible the creature exists, but he dismisses as virtually impossible that a real-life Yeti could be tramping through even the most remote regions of the United States. Similarly, like any good scientist, he doesn't reject outright the possibility that supernatural phenomenon does occur- but doesn't shy away from the one answer that never satisfies any "true believer" in that he simply acknowledges he does not know the answer. Human beings need answers and if science and nature doesn't provide them, they simply convince themselves that something is true. If we don't know the answer of how the universe was created...well, then, Presto! A superior being made it! If something goes "bump" in the night in your home then...Yikes! You're house must be haunted! Scientists take a more measured approach by suppressing as much as possible their own beliefs so as to prevent coming to any forgone conclusions. Clarke represented that mindset. Just because someone else can't provide a viable answer doesn't mean your beliefs have to be true.
The set is addictive in terms of viewing. The subject matters are so vast and wide-ranging that if one topic doesn't appeal to you, another will. Each 30 minute episode is tightly edited and features fascinating film footage from around the world. Some segments may reinforce your beliefs (or lack thereof) while others may leave you questioning long-held opinions on these subjects, but there is enough here, for example, in the examination of religion to please both believers and skeptics because of the fascinating angles Clarke uses to explore the topic. The series represents a time when such topics could be treated in an objective manner with the end result being that the viewers would reach their own conclusions. Sadly, such respect for the audience's intelligence has all been eradicated in the era of shows like The Long Island Medium. Highly recommended.