The universe is in his steady hands
Morgan Freeman doesn’t have many science- or science fiction-related films on his resume of almost 100 motion pictures over the last few decades. Although he played a U.S. president who displayed calm while a massive meteor careened toward Earth in 1998’s “Deep Impact,” and God in 2007’s “Evan Almighty,” his roles have been mostly grounded in the real world.
But Freeman has been involved for the last several years in “Through the Wormhole With Morgan Freeman,” a series on Discovery’s Science Channel that reflects the Oscar winner’s long-standing interest in large questions surrounding the universe and existence.
“Through the Wormhole,” which last week launched its nine-episode third season, has grown to be one of the cable network’s most watched series, averaging 490,000 viewers a week. The series, which features Freeman and a diverse gathering of scientists exploring such provocative questions as “What Makes Us What We Are?” “Can We Resurrect the Dead?” and “Is the Universe Alive?” has caught on with science fans, network executives said, and preparations are underway for a possible fourth season.
“I had no anticipation about how well this would do, but it’s always a big surprise when a show is well-received,” Freeman said last week in a phone interview.
Though his name is in the title and he is the show’s narrator and host as well as one of its executive producers, he downplays his own role in the show’s success, maintaining that fans are responding to its themes and ideas.
“We’re asking some interesting questions, and there are a lot of smart people talking about these things,” Freeman said. “For instance, the idea that there is this other energy in the universe -- scientists are certain that dark energy and dark matter exists. If you say it exists, then what is it? Can you prove or demonstrate that God created the universe? There are all these theories, and there are theories that can’t always be backed up, but they’re intriguing.”
The show combines analysis and complex scientific speculations with offbeat experiments, animation and even a bit of wit as scientists put forth sometimes quirky conclusions. Last week’s episode, “Is There a Superior Race?” contained a demonstration of how the brain power among different breeds of dogs might be reflective of differences in human behavior. A discussion of DNA and mutations was demonstrated with a clutter of gambling chips. And in “Is the Universe Alive?” which airs Wednesday night, one scientist uses a computer to demonstrate the size and complexity of the universe.
Freeman’s personal touch -- and that distinctive voice -- are also part of the mix. “Is There a Superior Race?” was introduced with Freeman’s recollections about growing up in Mississippi and how he became aware that whites were treated differently than blacks. In “Is the Universe Alive?” he speaks of his fascination with fireflies and artificial intelligence.
“I’m not directing or writing, but I’m a fan of people who can come up with these visual ideas that help put the theories across,” Freeman said. He wants to make sure the program’s goal is clear: asking the questions is as important as finding the answers.
The show was sparked by Freeman’s fascination with scientific matters: “I’m a big fan of science,” Freeman said. “All the questions about the cosmos. Carl Sagan was fascinating to me.”
When Science, which is available in 68 million homes, learned of his interest a few years ago, the network contacted the actor about developing a series.
Sean Moore, a physicist at Caltech, said Freeman’s involvement might be attracting non-science fans to the show -- as Alan Alda did by hosting PBS’ “Scientific American Frontiers” from 1993 to 2005.
“People are excited because he makes it accessible,” said Moore, who has written material for the series. “And that fact that it’s Morgan Freeman helps the show reach out to a wider audience just because it’s him.”
Freeman said the show has deepened his interest in the science world. But only to a point. Even though “Through the Wormhole” explores many issues related to space and the universe, Freeman said his interest in space travel is limited.
“I’d like to go into space for a while,” he said, “but I wouldn’t want to be on a major expedition. I’d be terrified.”
‘Through the Wormhole’
Where: Discovery Science
When: 10 p.m. Wednesday
Rating: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)