Horizon's recent program What Happened Before the Big Bang? was was one of the most visually experimental and interesting programs I have seen for a while on television. How is that? When all that were being interviewed were scientists about their calculations of predictions on the beginning of the universe.
The program producer and director, Peter Leonard, who is a trained scientist himself, did an amazing job keeping the viewer continually interested in each, discovery, calculation and professor whilst they spoke. This is not the first time Leonard has caused excitement with his Horizon documentaries, in 2006, Horizon: Most of the Universe is Missing was described as 'mind bogglingly clever', whilst explaining the most abstract and theoretical aspects of cosmology and astrophysics difficult concepts with a brilliant, and often humorous, clarity.
In What Happened Before the Big Bang?, Leonard plays with proportion,staying close cut on the hands of each professor as they attempt to solve a Rubix cube, then experimenting with negative space by having the professor head and just shoulders in the bottom of the frame. This accentuates their 'brain space' and gives the idea that they problems they are solving and the ideas about the universe and the existance of the solar system are taking place in that empty space. It gives the viewer a space to think in whilst they are listening to some of the most profound ideas I have heard on television about the big bang in years.
Cuts between mathematicians and theorists allow a broader photographic style to adopted, images are set up and framed beautifully, the camera is still and then a golf cart moves across the screen, the camera speeds up to a barrier and focuses on a sign.
The technique of framing the image and then letting only one thing move, the subject or the camera, not both allows for the viewer to feel comforatble watching these images and can gather a sense of place before they are introduced to a world which they are not so familiar with and find harder to get their head around, if that is even possible.
I really enjoyed the creativity applied to the filming of the documentary and wish that more directors and producers would experiment with it as I don't see nearly as enough amazingly filmed programs as I hope to.
Horizon: What Happened Before the Big Bang?, produced by Peter Leonard aired on 11 October 2010 and can be viewed on bbc.co.uk. Images are stills from the program.