Featured TV on DVD Review: Big History
Please don't suck. Please don't suck. Please don't suck. I've been burned by a number of History Channel shows in the past. Some are quite good, like How the Earth was Made, but others that I had high hopes for didn't live up to expectations. (And that's not counting the complete crap on the network, like the shows that deal with ghosts, aliens, or preppies pretending to be hicks.) I hope Big History is one of the better shows and the setup sounds intriguing. Does it live up to its promise? Or was I burned again?
Big History the TV show uses the academic field of Big History. Big History looks at human history as not just the actions of individuals, but as the result of forces that began before humans were around, indeed before life evolved on Earth. At first this might seem strange that history, the story of humans, would start before life started, but as the first episode points out, human civilization depends on salt, so where there were salt deposits at the surface of the Earth, civilization would flourish. The demand for salt, for instance, built the Erie Canal. The domestication of horses changed human civilization forever and not just in the obvious ways. Mountains change weather patterns and provide natural borders for defense. Precious metals like gold and silver change history whenever it is discovered, but why do humans covet it so? There are 16 30-minute episodes (that's 30 minutes including commercials or about 22-minutes as presented here) plus a two-hour finale (88 minutes on the DVD or Blu-ray).
My expectations for this show were perhaps a little too high. I was hoping for a show similar to James Burke's Connections series, which remains one of my favorite educational TV shows of all time. Big History has a similar theme running through it and is shows how various subjects have major connections throughout history. However, it's a History Channel show and not a BBC show and you can really tell. I have reviewed many History Channel TV shows in the past and many suffer from the same stylistic faults where the same information or graphics are overused to the point of self-parody. I lost track of the number of times we saw the interconnected points of light. Also, like most of the History Channel shows I've reviewed, information is repeated before and after every commercial break. Additionally, some of the connections are a little dubious and one wonders if some points made could be explained away as coincidence and not something larger.
That said, it is still interesting enough to be worth watching, and I like Bryan Cranston, but I'm not sure it has the replay value needed to justify buying.
There are ten featurettes with a total running time of 30 minutes. That's more than a full episode of extras, but because each separate featurette is so short, they don't add a lot of the proceedings.
The technical presentation is on par with other History Chanel TV on DVD releases. The video quality varies widely, depending on the source material. Some of the time the level of details is great, but other times the scenes are rather soft and the colors are less impressive. There are a lot of pans and zooms in the 5.1 surround sound audio track, perhaps too many, as the activity moves from being engaging to being distracting. It is a case of style over substance.
The Blu-ray costs $8 or 30% more than the DVD. This is a fine price for a TV on DVD release.
Big History isn't as good as I had hoped and it does suffer from the same flaws as most History Chanel educational shows suffer from, namely repetition, style over substance, and repetition. That said, there is enough that works that the DVD and Blu-ray are worth checking out, but a rental will be enough.
- Submitted by: C.S.Strowbridge
Date posted: 2014-03-09