History Channel // 2010 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Sandra Dozier (Retired) // September 25th, 2010
History introduces Instant Expert, an exciting new line of titles offering on-the-spot knowledge to students and lifelong learners on a wide variety of topics.
Picture the scenario: you are getting ready for a date or party, and you want to be able to speak with reasonable confidence on a particular issue you have only a schoolbook knowledge of. What to do? Pick up an Instant Expert DVD and get ready to learn!
The title of this series says it all -- Instant Expert: A Quick Guide to (fill in the subject here). The series as a whole covers a wide variety of subjects such as American and world history, science and technology, arts and literature, and ancient history. Clocking in at about 90 minutes of documentary, it isn't intended to be a comprehensive digest of the subject, but an overview touching major developments and milestones and how they related to the people and politics of the time. For the 90 minutes, these DVDs pack in a great deal of value; the information is presented in a straightforward manner (no sensationalism) and uses excellent dramatization, historical paintings and illustrations, and interviews with historians to profile the subject.
Instant Expert: Ben Franklin starts by tantalizing you with an three minute overview of his life. When most Americans think of Ben Franklin, thoughts of kites and keys come to mind -- the man who tamed electricity through his experiments with lightning. We think of him as a founding father. What Instant Expert strives to show you (in fewer than 90 minutes) is that he was also a thinker, a diplomat, a bad boy, a ladies man, a writer, a failed father and husband, an altruist, and a shrewd observer of the human condition. For those who have only seen Franklin in terms of schoolbook perspective, it's a peek into an entirely fascinating man, covering his life from an early flight away from a dreary apprenticeship in a printing house, to his slow change from British loyalist to American revolutionary, to his final years of statesmanship.
The documentary expertly steps through the rich history of Franklin's life. At age 20, he was already running his own printing press and newspaper, and he wrote his auto-biography in his sixties, so he lived a long life of innovation and political intrigue. The personal touches in this documentary gave me a new perspective on the man, as well. I had no idea Franklin was such a ladies man, but it makes sense -- his great intelligence, his confidence and competitiveness, and his charisma would attract many admirers. This man created the lightning rod, bi-focal glasses, improved the US Mail service, and wrote under the pen name Poor Richard, where he dispensed such well-known advice as, "Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise." He did not patent his most well-known inventions, such as the lightning rod, preferring instead to have them widely distributed so as many people as possible would benefit by them. He could have been hugely rich, but he preferred to save lives. He also sold his business at a young age, deciding that he had made enough money to live on, and turning his thoughts more to the intellectual and the community side of life. He was instrumental in negotiating with France for support during the American Revolution against Britain.
To my mind, this series is geared primarily to adults. The subject matter is mature without being salacious or gory, but is not dumbed-down or tamed in any way -- there is much here to whet the appetite of anyone wishing a broader perspective on Franklin. Students may also find this interesting as a way to further knowledge of Franklin or add depth to a school report, although this DVD is not marketed or intended as a visual Cliffs Notes to shortcut anyone writing a basic report. It is too high level to provide a comprehensive cross-reference of political events in Franklin's life, either, preferring to touch the major events and key accomplishments, instead. As an experience for parents and children to share, this DVD is highly recommended; the events of Franklin's life, good and bad, are presented in context of what was happening at the time, and automatically invites further discussion and investigation.
The parts that dramatize his life are quite well done -- the cinematography and direction are surprisingly polished and detailed for a comparatively brief documentary, and help add depth to what might otherwise be an overly academic review. It is clear that great care and forethought went into all elements of putting the documentary together. The video quality is not stunning, but is well done, with vibrant colors and nicely deep dark tones and shadows. The audio quality is average, but clear and crisp.
In terms of extra features, there is just one: an interactive quiz that can be taken after watching the main feature, testing the viewer's knowledge based on the items reviewed in the documentary. The DVD itself is smartly packaged and the boxes of this series are color coded; blue for American History (as this box for Ben Franklin was), red for World History, purple for Arts and Literature, yellow for Ancient History, and green for Science and Technology. For any person or organization wishing to make a library out of this series, it would be very easy to quickly find a subject of interest.
Not Guilty! This is a well-rounded glimpse into Franklin's life, and an excellent starting point for further learning, if one is inclined to do so.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: History Channel
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (CC)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Interactive Quiz
* Wikipedia: Benjamin Franklin