Follow us on

Featured TV on DVD Review: Empires: DVD Collection

October 13th, 2010

Empires: DVD Collection - Buy from Amazon

This is kind of a weird TV on DVD Megaset, as it isn't a complete series, but a compilation of four to six shows (depending on how you count them). They all deal with the realm of ancient history, but tackle the subjects in different ways and focus on different aspects. Since there is no single thread, it is easiest just to jump in and start reviewing each of the individual shows, starting with...

Engineering an Empire

The first show looks at various empires at various points of time and in various places on the Earth and how they were built, literally. This show actually focuses on the engineering feats needed to build empires. This is an unusual angle for this type of show, as usually when a history show talks about empires, they talk about the political and military might that went into building, maintaining, and eventually destroying them. They do touch on those subjects, it would be nearly impossible not to, but it is the engineering feats that take center stage here.

This is the biggest of the shows on this 14-disc Megaset taking up the first six discs, I think. The previous release for this show was a four-disc set that didn't have the Egypt or Rome specials, each of which take up a disc on this Megaset. If you wanted to pad the show count, you could divide this into three shows, but I'll treat it as one. Engineering an Empire is hosted by Peter Weller, who is not just an actor playing a role here, he really is an expert on the subject having a Master's Degree in Roman and Renaissance Art. However, his time in Hollywood has affected his delivery, in a good way. He's a lot more relaxed and not at all stuffy. His delivery has a fun charm to it that makes remembering facts all the easier. (Having Michael Carroll narrate doesn't hurt either.) There are an impressive quantity of high quality reenactments, computer simulations, etc.

The 14-disc set gets off to a very strong start with this show.

The Extras

Disc four has an 19-minute behind-the-scenes featurette for the series as the whole. Disc five has a 21-minute behind-the-scenes featurette on the Roman special. There are three featurettes for the Egyptian special with a total running time of 35 minutes.

Rome: Rise and Fall of an Empire

You can't have a Megaset about empires without talking about Rome. This is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, this four disc section of the DVD is loaded with information starting with the death of Julias Ceaser, ending with the sacking of Rome, and many parts in-between. If you are a fan of this era of Western Civilization, there's a lot of information here. Unfortunately, there's not a lot of new information here. It's not like there's been a huge breakthrough in our understanding of the Roman Empire in the past few years. Talking about the Roman Empire is sort of like Shark Week in that regard.

That said, the show has an excellent mix of talking heads and reenactments that present both the well-worn information, as well as some lesser discussed facts and it is absolutely worth checking out. I do miss Peter Weller as a host. (In a strange coincidence, one of the people they talk to is named Peter Wells.)

The Extras

On the fourth disc of this series, and the tenth overall, there's an episode of Modern Marvels on Barbarian Battle Tech. You generally don't think of the Barbarians as "modern" but its a good way to end the section.

Ancients Behaving Badly

I previously reviewed this series, so I won't get into detail. Compared to the others in this set, I would considered it the Reality TV of this set.


The shortest of the shows with just four episodes. It's an improvement over Ancients, but suffers from many of the same faults. For instance, it's a little over melodramatic. Also, it is quite repetitious with the same clips being used over and over again. Sometimes over and over and over again. Finally, while watching it, I couldn't help but think that Terry Jones's Barbarians was simply better. Terry Jones added the humor and enthusiasm needed to really engage the audience, something Peter Weller provided in the first show, and it is something that is deeply missing in this show and the previous one.

On a side note, of the four Barbarian tribes discussed on this show, I believe I'm related to three of them. The Strowbridge name comes from an English village founded by Vikings. I'm related to Ghengkis Kahn on my mother's side, as is about one in twenty people on the planet. I'm not sure about the Goths; it's either the Goths or the Vandals we're related to. Perhaps I should combine the two by dressing in black, wearing too much eye make-up, and spray painting depressing slogans on private property. I don't think I have any direct relations to the Huns.


There is a 21-minute behind-the-scenes featurette and the Biography episode on Genghis Kahn.

The Verdict

Empires: DVD Collection starts out with an awesome series hosted by Peter Weller and the first six discs will entertain even those that are not that interested in history. Rome: Rise and Fall of an Empire is not quite as strong, but still adds a lot of value to the set. Ancients Behaving Badly is the low point, while Barbarians recovers a little bit at the end. Overall, more than half of the DVD has enough replay value that it is worth picking up.

- Submitted by:

Filed under: Video Review