History Channel // 2007 // 188 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // May 31st, 2007
The History Channel continues to bring history alive with this sophomore barbarian outing, telling the tales of four fierce tribes that helped shape modern Europe. Grab your loincloth and saddle up and hear of the days of high adventure!
Barbarians II tells the stories of four dominant barbarian tribes that ran rough-shod over the depleted Roman Empire. The Saxons, Vandals, Lombards and Franks each took their turn pummeling the weakened Romans and gobbling up European real estate. But, as I learned from this great documentary set, these barbarians were skillful political players as well as sword-wielders and womanizers. Episodes track the tribes through multiple generations as they build their power and leave their legacy on a continent.
The History Channel is pretty cool. First there was Dogfights, probably the greatest military-themed non-fiction show I've seen. Now this, 45 minutes of wall-to-wall barbarian combat, flanked by the occasional college professor who just can't get enough of history and is dying to impart his knowledge to you. Barbarians II is good stuff, though, like any history-flavored production, your enjoyment may vary based on you interest in the subject matter. Me, I can't get enough to the violent beginnings of Europe and the bad-asses that ran wild over the countryside unleashing pure hell on the civilized.
The four barbarian hordes that receive the basic cable treatment:
* "The Vandals"
The Vandals took their shots at the vulnerable Roman Empire as they ran amok through Spain and North Africa, wiping out pretty much everything in their path. You know you're a bad dude when your tribe's name is used in the modern vernacular to signify mayhem and property destruction. (Though they had nothing on their rival tribe, The Halle Berrys).
* "The Saxons"
Out of the four hordes, these guys were the most fascinating to me, mainly because they were the fore-fathers of the English. Blue-faced whack-jobs from the Germanic lands, the Saxons feasted on the defenseless Romanized Britons, and eventually consumed the British Isle. The Saxons would later face a huge threat from the invading Danes, and this allowed King Alfred the Great to assert himself as one of the great rulers of England. Good stuff.
* "The Franks"
So the descendants of French were fearless, ruthless fighters, huh? These guys swept through the Roman empire, and Gaul specifically, gutting it from the inside. Led by Merovich and later Clovis, the Franks were one of the primary forgers of a common European identity. This documentary in particular weaves in the fascinating smackdown between the ancient pagan faiths and surging Christian orthodoxy.
* "The Lombards"
Rounding out the fearsome foursome is this barbarian tribe. How bad were they? Let's let the DVD blurb speak for itself: "We travel with the brutal Lombard leader, Alboin, as he breaks through the Roman defenses, surrounds The Eternal City, and forces a captured foe's wife to drink from her slain father's skull."
The bread and butter of Barbarians II are the reenactments. Here, a pile of actors and extras gear up in period-appropriate costuming and basically run at each other, yell real loud and swing swords that dangerously breach each other's personal space. Sure, the abbreviated TV budget prevents legions of characters on screen and at some points the reenactments perilously flirt with the weekend adventures of your neighborhood Rohirrim wanna-bes, but the havoc is fast-moving and well-choreographed. Heck, there was even a decapitation. How often do you see that in a History Channel show? Balancing out the faux bloodshed is the professorial commentary, and these guys get into their history, delivering the stories with gusto. Overall, this special is a fun bit of chock full o' learning that I would recommend to anyone interested in the grisly birth of modern-day Europe.
The episodes look very good, sparkling in details and bursting with color. The downside? It's all in fake widescreen. The 2.0 stereo mix is standard. Two full-length bonus programs give the set a bit more mileage: "Modern Marvels: Axes, Swords and Knives" and "Conquest: Weapons of the Barbarians."
Highly recommended for Dark Ages buffs, Barbarians II packs a lot of history and staged sword violence in 45 minutes.
Not guilty (insert axe into head now).
Review content copyright © 2007 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: History Channel
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 188 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus Program "Conquest: Weapons of the Barbarians"
* Bonus Program "Modern Marvels: Axes, Swords and Knives"
* DVD Verdict Review: Barbarians