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NOVA: Einstein's Big Idea


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Editorial Reviews

Everyone's heard of it, but what does E=mc2 -- the worldís most famous equation -- really mean? And why did it change the world?With brilliant period recreations, NOVA dramatizes how an obscure young patent clerk, Albert Einstein, came up with his shattering 1905 discovery that the realms of matter and energy are inescapably linked. An accessible, suspenseful epic, Einstein's Big Idea reveals the roots of his astonishing breakthrough in the human stories of men and women whose innovative thinking across four centuries helped lead to E=mc2, and ultimately unleashed the power of the atom.Here are stories rich with achievement and failure, feuds and duplicity, love and rivalry, politics and revenge: Michael Faraday, the penniless blacksmithís son who fought the ridicule of the scientific establishment; Antoine Lavoisier, the cool-headed experimenter who fell victim to the guillotine; and Lise Meitner, the physicist who weathered Nazi persecution and personal betrayal on her path to discovering the splitting of the atom.As one discovery builds on the next, Einstein's Big Idea shows how Einstein's saga began with the personal lives of these pioneers and their years of persistence, ingenuity, sacrifice, and heroic struggle against the odds.The film stars Aidan McArdle (Ella Enchanted) as Einstein, and Shirley Henderson (Bridget Jones and Harry Potter) as Einstein's first wife, Mileva Maric.Special DVD features include: materials and activities for educators; a link to the NOVA Web site; scene selections; closed captions; and described video for the visually impaired. On one DVD5 disc. Region coding: All regions. Audio: Dolby stereo. Screen format: Letterboxed.

Special Features

None.

Product Details

  • Actors: John Lithgow, Shirley Henderson, Aidan McArdle
  • Directors: Gary Johnstone
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Closed-captioned, Color, Letterboxed, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: PBS
  • DVD Release Date: December 6, 2005
  • Run Time: 112 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000BKDO6G
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #17,604 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

51 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Daniel R. Sanderman VINE VOICE on November 27, 2005
EINSTEIN'S BIG IDEA is an absolutely fabulous documentary. This film truly sets the standard for NOVa and makes me lament the fact that more programming isn't done like this. If only the amount of money that goes into general programming went into PBS. That would be something else.

But enough of my own ridiculous desires. EINSTEIN'S BIG IDEA chronicles some of the most fascinating scientific work that has been done in the last couple of centuries. It is an idea so big that its implications have been vast, not just within the fields of science & mathematics, but in our society and culture at large. NOVA also shows how Einstein's achievement was not the happy accident we often see it as. Instead, this documentary seeks to situate his discovery by exploring the lives of other pioneers in related fields, richly filling out the personal lives of these scientists and, above all, situating their achievements in a rich history and context.

In the end, EINSTEIN'S BIG IDEA accomplishes two goals. First, I came away from the program with a bunch of ideas and information swimming in my head, the result of handing me the information in a digestible format. Second, I was entertained throughout the entire program. It truly didn't feel like I was learning--I was being entertained.

If only I could go back and replace some of the boring school films I had to watch in middle/high school with the sharp work of NOVA. It would have been a treat! If you haven't seen the excellent NOVA lineup, I suggest that you remedy it with a liberal dose! Happy viewing!
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Osam Alwan on April 30, 2006
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This program has more science than (Einstein Revealed, Newton's Dark Secrets and The Elegant Universe), although Newton's Dark Secrets has its moments.

Einstein's Big Idea is about the many contributions of earlier scientists leading Einstein to come up with E=mc2. It's also about the later usefulness of E=mc2 in nuclear physics. Unlike Einstein Revealed, which is a story almost entirely about the life of Einstein (private and public), Einstein's Big Idea is a story about science with its ups and downs. There are also some people stories as well, but they are added for dramatic value, which in my view helps instead of hinders the program.

I highly recommend this program for anyone who is interested in the evolution of scientific ideas (7 stars).
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This is a 112-minute NOVA production directed by Gary Johnstone based on the book E=MC2 by David Bodanis. John Lithgow narrates and Aiden McArdle stars as Albert Einstein. It's the kind of documentary that melds interviews with scientists and historians with reconstructions of historical events by actors. "Einstein's Big Idea" is a particularly good example of this genre.

Bodanis realized when he conceived the book that it wasn't enough merely to write about Einstein. It was necessary to bring Einstein's precursors and their ideas and discoveries into the mix. This film does the same and does it well. Recalled is the story of Michael Faraday who discovered electromagnetic induction and that of Antoine Lavoisier who demonstrated the conservation of matter. Worth noting is the influence of women in these stories. Shirley Henderson plays Einstein's first wife and fellow physicist Mileva Maric while Ty Glaser portrays Lavoisier's wife, Marie Anne, who was a fine chemist in her own right. Included is the sad story of Lise Meitner, Austrian born Jewish physicist, who was betrayed by fellow physicist Otto Hahn in Nazi Germany in that he won a Nobel Prize in large part because of work she had done.

What impressed me about this production was the fine acting by especially Shirley Henderson who is an outstanding actress, and Aiden McArdle who looked the spitting image of a young Albert Einstein. Ty Glaser was also very good. Johnstone's direction was first rate. His ability to recreate various time periods in a realistic way should propel him toward a career adapting historical novels to the screen.

The film concentrates on the personalities of the scientists and their struggles and successes. The actual science is secondary. Consequently this is a good film for people, especially young people, interested in science but without yet a lot of scientific training.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Graciela Milakovic on August 31, 2006
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This is by far the best documentary I have ever seen and it doesn't even feel like one. Einstein's Big Idea truly takes you into the journey of light itself. It takes a hold of you from the beginning with its wonderful introduction into these people's lives and achievements, and it doesn't let go until the end. When you are watching the fascinating stories that make up the equation E=mc2, you relate to the characters and their struggles as if you were part of their discoveries. I specially offer a huge praise to the actor that portrays Einstein (the resemblance is uncanny) who makes you believe he is the icon himself. It is amazing how quickly your mind fills with questions and wonders beyond your average everyday thinking. It makes me wish I was a scientist in this period of time when all bets are off and not even God can tell you what to do.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By L Weiss on September 20, 2006
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Just about to put this item into my cart for purchase, having caught it in mid-stream on local PBS programming, sat down to watch, and decided to share my excitement about it. I have a layperson's interest in physics and reality and religion and spirituality, etc, and a familiarity with bits and pieces of each. But, until this program, I had never been able to "wrap my head" around the concept of E = MC2. Every program I watched, every book I read, presumed some basic intimate previous knowledge of how this works...a knowledge that I simply did not possess. E = MC2 has become a catchphrase, widely used and perhaps not as widely understood...a stepping stone to other realizations but, if you're behind the curve, good luck on getting someone to explain it succinctly to you. This presentation showed me the concept in a way that no other had done...and I finally "got" it. I've always been in awe of the Universe; this show helped put into terms that I understand, a bit of how that universe works...and of the historical consequences of humankind's unraveling of this piece of the puzzle.
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