History Channel // 2008 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // February 21st, 2009
The most complex machine in the universe.
The human brain is an extraordinarily complex thing. It has many elaborate functions and is capable of achieving a seemingly limitless variety of things. This History Channel documentary claims to be "an astonishing voyage into our last biological frontier." Unfortunately, those hoping for a definitive study on the human brain should probably, um, go to college or buy a few books on the subject. This 90-minute documentary obviously has nowhere near enough time to offer an in-depth examination of the brain. So, what does The Brain offer? Some good old-fashioned science-themed exploitation.
Various functions of the brain are explored in wildly sensationalistic ways. When the documentary begins, an eager narrator begins to ask questions: "What happens to during brain during SEX? What makes a mind EVIL? Is ESP just a theory, or is it REAL?" It becomes clear very quickly that keeping the interest of easily-distracted viewers will remain a priority throughout. Even so, the documentary does offer a few interesting bits of information on the findings of recent research.
The first portion of the documentary examines the brain's ability to generate fear. We follow a group of Navy Seals in training, and witness some strenuous activities designed to test the ability of the candidates to suppress fear. One of these activities involves placing the Seals-in-training underwater. The candidates are given oxygen tanks, and are told to stay underwater for 20 minutes. During that time, trainers rob the candidates of their tanks and tie their equipment in knots. The candidates then have a brief window of time to suppress their panic and focus on getting the equipment untangled.
Next, we learn about how the brain responds during sexual activity. Recent studies have been done on the brains of both males and females experiencing orgasms, and the documentary offers some interesting information on the extremes our minds go to during sex. Anxiety decreases as the anticipation of pleasure increases. This is contrasted with the mentality of skydivers and various sorts of daredevils, who feel a need to increase their anxiety level dramatically before they can experience pleasure.
Zooming right along, we examine the minds of psychopathic killers. What is going on inside the brains of individuals who murder without feeling any sort of remorse or emotion? Recent studies have suggested that there are indeed physical differences in the brains of certain types of criminals. The levels of severity tend to vary. In some minds, the lack of communication allows individuals to commit horrible acts without any remorse. In others, smaller offenses like lying and cheating are much easier, though actually bringing physical harm to someone still seems horrific.
Surely there are other individuals who have interesting brain functions, right? You betcha. Next in line are athletes, and there are sports scientists onhand to discuss the complexities the mind must deal with when one is participating in intense sports activities. For instance, in order for a basketball player to perform well in a basketball game, his adrenaline level must remain high. However, when that same player needs to make a couple of free throws, he has a very brief period of time to try to bring that adrenaline level down as much as possible. The concept of "being in the zone" is also discussed.
What about psychic abilities? Is there any credibility to such things? This documentary certainly seems to think so. Famed television psychic John Edwards is interviewed about the results of some studies he participated in. The results showed that Edwards was able to correctly "read minds" with 80-90% accuracy. Even so, the skeptical attitude that many scientists have towards the concept of a "sixth sense" is noted. Some feel that there may be something to the "gut feelings" that we all experience, but in general, the attitude of the scientific community is not very positive when it comes to such things.
As with many History Channel discs, this documentary suffers from a terrible transfer. Color bleeding and a noteworthy lack of detail define the viewing experience, which looks not one bit better than it might on television. Additionally, viewers such as myself with widescreen televisions will be disappointed to note that the transfer is non-anamorphic. The 2.0 audio is perfectly adequate, but nothing special. This isn't the sort of feature that demands superb audio or video, but the History Channel surely could have done a better job than this. As for the main feature, The Brain offers a leisurely and only mildly thought-provoking journey through a series of brain-related subjects. It's the sort of thing that might provide engaging viewing when there's nothing else on television, but it's hard to recommend a purchase.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: History Channel
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated