Season 34 Episode 2

Mystery of the Megavolcano

Aired Wednesday 9:00 PM Sep 26, 2006 on PBS
out of 10
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Episode Summary

Mystery of the Megavolcano
Nova follows four scientists in their quest to uncover the mystery of what they believe to be an epic volcanic eruption that occurred 75,000 years ago and which wrought untold devastation to Earth. If their theory is true, it may mean this ancient megavolcano or others like it may reawaken some day and inflict catastrophic damage once again.moreless
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  • The series hits on all cylinders with this one, but the question remains if the subject matter grabs the casual viewer enough to follow the story.

    Scientists from four separate disciplines piece together the story of a massive volcanic eruption 75,000 years ago.

    When I look at "NOVA", I tend to have a checklist of what makes a successful installment. First, is the story compelling? In this case, it's global and discusses a catastrophe that had world-wide impact. An even larger magma chamber sits under Yellowstone today. Second, is there a nice sense of mystery? That's well-done here, two volcanologists, a paleoclimatologist, and an invertebrate paleontologist all use different lines of evidence to reconstruct a global cooling event, its cause, and the location of the volcano that may have helped cause it. Third, are the scientists personable? Pretty much, they explain well in fairly simple terms (O 18 levels and fission track dating are very hard to explain without drawings, so that's forgivable). Fourth, is the script engaging enough to get a vewer interested in just a few minutes? In this case, it's questionable. "NOVA" takes on topics that have enough complexity that it takes a while to set up the scenario. The budget for graphics and effects is limited, often segments of effects and CGI are run over-and-over again to save money.

    So while I find this one of the better episodes of the series' long run, it's still a known fact that the topics most popular with even relatively-sophisticated PBS audiences are dinosaurs and space travel.. But I've always given "NOVA" credit for trying.moreless

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