HBO, TLC Take Bizarre Treks


Two upcoming specials -- Home Box Office's Galileo:
On the Shoulders of Giants
and The Learning Channel's We Are Not Alone: Space
-- reach for the stars, but both hours miss their mark.

Galileo opens with a view of the stars, as the narrator
relates the fact that people once believed that Earth was the center of the universe, and
in the 1600s, those who questioned that were persecuted by the Inquisition. The scene then
shifts to a classroom, where it's clear that teacher Galileo was among the rebels in
those star wars.

Michael Moriarty as Galileo and Kenny Vadas as Prince
Cosimo de Medici perform their roles well. But the producers, despite taking pains with
costuming and Italian locations, unfortunately feel that 'family' dramas must be
dumbed down with comedic bits, and even a bizarre food 'duel.' Galileo's
rival, Colombe, and a sidekick are portrayed as Laurel & Hardy-style bumblers, even as
Colombe plots the scientist's downfall.

The producers further muddy their historical mission by
creating a fictional encounter between Galileo and Cosimo, which leads to Galileo becoming
the youngster's

reluctant tutor. When the stubborn prince says he believes
that everything revolves around Earth, Moriarty's Galileo says acidly, 'As your
court revolves around you, I imagine.'

Gradually won over, Cosimo supposedly inspires Galileo to
invent the 'eyeglass,' or telescope, which enables him to prove his theories,
including that the moon is mountainous, and not smooth. Eventually, the cardinals in Rome
force Galileo to renounce his 'falsehoods.'

TLC's Space Voyagers reports that we may yet
have to revise our views on whether we're alone -- perhaps 'the oldest
unanswered question,' an astronomer observes. This special -- the momentum of which
slows considerably, with so many talking heads expounding on alien abductees,
religion's role and nature's adaptability -- cries out for more striking
visuals, like the Close Encounters of the Third Kind clip.

Galileo, the latest in HBO's 'The
Inventors' Specials,' will run Jan. 6 at 7 p.m., with five repeats between Jan.
10 and 28. TLC's special, part of its 'Alien Invasion Week,' will bow Jan.
19 at 10 p.m.