Blow my Mind
July 20, 2008 11:01 AM   Subscribe

The world (and universe) is an incredible place, as I've learned from awesome series such as Planet Earth and the Universe. What are some other high-quality mindblowing box sets? Or even just a single eye-opening documentary? I just want to watch something and leave with the sensation of, wow, the world is a crazy/amazing place.

I'm not looking for pseudoscience pieces such as What the Bleep Do We Know or "issue" documentaries that show how the people on this planet are insane or evil or suffering (though they are interesting). I'm really looking for things about the natural world and universe, such as the Elegant Universe.
posted by god particle to Science & Nature (30 answers total) 68 users marked this as a favorite
Blue Planet without a doubt.
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:09 AM on July 20, 2008

Microcosmos, Winged Migration, March of the Penguins. Cosmos, though it's dated. Baraka might be more 'issue' than you'd prefer, and ditto the qatsi movies.
posted by box at 11:13 AM on July 20, 2008

The Ascent Of Man, Life On Earth, The Living Planet, The Life Of Birds...

All amazing.
posted by Magnakai at 11:21 AM on July 20, 2008

Carl Sagan's Cosmos
posted by netbros at 11:32 AM on July 20, 2008

If you are at all interested in listening to podcasts, Astronomy Cast sounds like it would also fit the bill.
posted by at 11:36 AM on July 20, 2008

Koyaanisqatsi is amazing, as is the follow-up Powaqqatsi. They have no spoken words, but stunning imagery and a Phillip Glass score. It's not specifically nature-focused, but rather they contrast human activity and culture with nature. Powaqqatsi, especially shows people and cultures you have probably never seen before. The opening sequence, showing thousands of people carrying bags of mud up a hill, is unforgettable. It looks like an anthill on an enormous skill, with people instead of ants.

The third movie in the trilogy, Naqoyqatsi, was not nearly as compelling to me, so I can't really recommend it.

posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 12:01 PM on July 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

The Day The Universe Changed is over 20 years old now but back in the day I found it very educational. Burke also has the Connections series on DVD (series 2 & 3 are on netflix).

Michael Palin's travelogues (eg. Himalaya) are uniformly very well done.
posted by yort at 12:06 PM on July 20, 2008


Wild China

(By the way, Wild China is due to air in HD on July 27th on the Travel Channel here in the US.)
posted by sharkfu at 12:12 PM on July 20, 2008

All of the stuff by David Attenborough that's already been mentioned.

How about Jacques Cousteau? I'm not sure how well his films have dated, but I have really fond memories of watching his shows in my youth. Amazon has various box sets available and there's also his documentary film The Silent World.
posted by afx237vi at 12:12 PM on July 20, 2008

Shoulda previewed, because sharkfu's recommendation of Wild China is mind-blowingly good. It was recently on the BBC here in the UK and the cinematography was spectacular.
posted by afx237vi at 12:15 PM on July 20, 2008

Some of the stuff Neil deGrasse Tyson goes for television can evoke similar feelings. Youtube!
posted by ashaw at 12:41 PM on July 20, 2008

In addition to all the other Attenborough-narrated stuff I recommend Life in the Undergrowth. Yow.

They might be pretty dated (and won't be in HD), but you could see if old shows like Cosmos (mentioned earlier by box), Nova, etc., will scratch your itch.

If you're willing to shift media, there's a lot of great stuff in text form: check out some of the yearly best science writing collections.
posted by hattifattener at 12:54 PM on July 20, 2008

Cosmos. Cosmos. Cosmos. Cosmos. Cosmos. Cosmos. Cosmos. Cosmos. Cosmos. Cosmos. Cosmos. Cosmos. Cosmos. Cosmos. Cosmos. Cosmos. Cosmos. Cosmos. Cosmos. Cosmos, and Cosmos.
posted by sourwookie at 12:59 PM on July 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

Any of the series done by David Attenborough should fit your bill nicely. "Life on Earth" and "The Living Planet" are both excellent. The first is a series of shows about different plant or animal groups showing all the places they live and how. The second slices it the other way and concentrates on specific ecosystems.
posted by Class Goat at 1:12 PM on July 20, 2008

Sounds like a Nova marathon would fit the bill nicely.
posted by EatTheWeek at 1:16 PM on July 20, 2008

David Attenborough is a living legend. The Life of Mammals and The Life of Birds are not to be missed. The BBC has a bunch of good series. BBC's Earth: Power of the Planet is great. The Walking With Dinos/Beasts/Monsters series is hours of fun. BBC's Ocean Odyssey is the biography of a whale from the surface to deep sea trenches. BBC's Space Odyssey is a fictional documentary about a voyage to several planets in the near future with great visuals similar to The Universe.

There are lots of good IMAX documentaries too, many available on Netflix. Journey into Amazing Caves had awesome ice caves and cenotes. The Discovery HD channel is another place to look. Equator, is similar to Planet Earth but without too much overlap.
posted by euphorb at 1:26 PM on July 20, 2008

Keep the River on Your Right
posted by white light at 1:46 PM on July 20, 2008

Adding my vote to Private Life of Plants. When watching it, you become aware of events going on all around you that you are otherwise blind to because you live at a specific time scale, much like you have a specific spatial scale. Awesome.
posted by fcummins at 1:50 PM on July 20, 2008

The Life Collection. I'm in the process of watching this entire series right now. It's taking ages, but it's amazing.

Life In Cold Blood.

Wild China.

How about Ray Mears? Or, just jump on Netflix, punch in David Attenborough, and rent everything. That guy has never made a bad documentary.
posted by Solomon at 1:52 PM on July 20, 2008

posted by mincus at 2:14 PM on July 20, 2008

You' might enjoy Life in the undergrowth
posted by special-k at 3:37 PM on July 20, 2008

I really enjoyed this BBC 3-part series 'Atom' about the discovery of the atom and the progress of atomic theory. Part 1 on googlevideo here
posted by Rufus T. Firefly at 4:47 PM on July 20, 2008

not sure if it's available on DVD though....
posted by Rufus T. Firefly at 5:15 PM on July 20, 2008

I love documentaries like these, and a lot of great ones have already been mentioned, but the BBC series Supernatural, was one of the ones that really blew me away.

Thinking about it now, I really can't wait to watch it again!
posted by Drix at 5:18 AM on July 21, 2008

An absolute eye opener is Trinity & Beyond - The Atomic Bomb Movie, narrated by William Shatner. This is a must-see dvd. A youtube teaser can be found here.
posted by marcelm at 5:43 AM on July 21, 2008

The BBC (mostly via Attenborough, but there's others) seems to be the king of this kind of thing, and some shows, both recent and old, have so far not made it to the US or to Netflix in DVD form (e.g., The Private Life of Plants, Supernatural, Attenborough's latest: Life in Cold Blood, Spy in The__...), or they get edited, given new narrators, etc (Netflix usually has the originals if they exist in Region 1 form). I've been checking out the region-2 range at and occasionally buying (mostly used) now that I've got an all-region DVD player, bought for just this purpose.

Same thing is true of many other types of often superb British TV series (mysteries, dramedies, historical, Masterpiece Theater type stuff), btw. Besides the "Customers Who Viewed This Item Also Viewed" listings at, I check out the Acorn and BBCAmerica online and print catalogs to keep tabs on this stuff.
posted by dpcoffin at 8:55 AM on July 21, 2008

While you're waiting for your new DVDs, you might dig this blog.
posted by dpcoffin at 9:43 AM on July 21, 2008

PBS's Evolution series is quite beautiful (and enlightening).
posted by subajestad at 12:10 PM on July 21, 2008

Winged Migration
posted by Juggling Frogs at 12:29 PM on July 21, 2008

kind of dated but i always liked the movie mindwalk
posted by Redhush at 4:23 PM on July 21, 2008

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