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Review: Stephen Hawking’s Grand Design (2012)

Directed by: | 135 minutes |

Did God Create the Universe? What is the meaning of life? Why does the cosmos exist? All mysterious questions that everyone would want the answer to. In collaboration with the Discovery Channel, Stephen Hawking promises long-awaited explanations for these issues in his new documentary series. The back cover of the DVD claims to contain Hawking’s scientific legacy, setting the bar high and immediately arousing curiosity.

It is certainly attractive, because as we are used to from Discovery, the CGI has been perfected to perfection. Hawking’s physical defects are well resolved by having someone else do the voice-over. To create a personal atmosphere, Hawking’s computerized voice flows smoothly into the narration voice, which gives the impression that it is his own voice. The alternation between images of Hawking himself and the beautiful images of the universe ensures that you are constantly aware of the presence of the scientist, without his sight becoming boring.

Unfortunately, beautiful pictures and technically well-put together material are not enough to produce a quality documentary. The exceptionally engaging questions are never fully answered, leaving the viewer disappointed. Discovery starts from the absolutely ignorant layman, the simplest facts are explained in detail. Because a lot of time is taken for well-known theories, there is little room left to go deeply into the scientific explanations. The series seems more like a combination of a lesson and philosophical speculation than the intended groundbreaking scientific legacy. The behind the ideas is only very superficially discussed and the pace of the voice-over is immensely slow. In this way, Discovery seems to want to release a documentary that is as comprehensible as possible for the widest possible audience, leaving the genuinely interested audience behind.

Stephen Hawking is a very intelligent and inspiring scientist and has launched countless interesting theories, but these are hardly discussed. Although he still comes across as sympathetic, “Grand Design” does no justice at all to the physicist that Hawking really is. Only cliché answers are given to the posed questions that are not worth the wait. People who are really interested in physics theory would do well to put the DVD aside and read Hawking’s literature instead.

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