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Originally published January 28, 2014 at 11:50 AM | Page modified January 28, 2014 at 11:53 AM

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Stephen Hawking opens up about his life in documentary

A review of the PBS documentary “Hawking,” about physicist Stephen Hawking, airing Jan. 29 on KCTS.




10 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 29, on KCTS

Tonight in Prime Time

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Good grief. Such a pathetic article about this unique, amazing mind, and amazing... MORE


WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Stephen Hawking, who just turned 72, tells his life story in his own words, from his boyhood in Oxford, England, to the onset of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, to courting and marrying Jane Wilde — his first wife, interviewed extensively here. And, of course, it details some of his major discoveries while at Cambridge University: the notion that the “Big Bang” had a beginning point, and that radiation could “leak” from a black hole. Mostly, viewers learn of an utterly indomitable spirit. “I have lived over two-thirds of my life with the threat of death hanging over me,” he says. “I have developed a desire to make the most of each and every minute.”

MY SAY: There are two physicists of the 20th century who are household names, and Hawking is one of them (you don’t have to be an Einstein to guess the other). But why Hawking? This film certainly begins to offer many reasons, though one stands out far above the others: his spectacular triumph of mind over body. With a little help from his friends, Hawking has carved a nearly mythic place in the universe for himself — or, at the very least, in the popular imagination — and justifiably so. What’s missing is a deeper exploration of that remarkable mind. “Hawking” is an hourlong version of a film released last fall that ran 90 minutes, so obviously something got sacrificed, most likely that fuller understanding of both the man and the science. “Hawking” whizzes past black holes and “singularity” and “Hawking Radiation” with scarcely a glance. By turns, the science starts to take a back seat to the celebrity, and by the end of this, he’s got cameos on “The Simpsons” and is doing shtick with Jim Carrey. You also come to realize, however, that there’s an important role for that in his life, too. “Keeping an active mind has been vital to my survival, as has been maintaining a sense of humor.”

BOTTOM LINE: As billed, an intimate look at a genius, but the science gets a major haircut here.

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