Case Number 15918


History Channel // 2008 // 504 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // March 14th, 2009

The Charge

"You're feeling like Indiana Jones?"
"Yeah, exactly."

Opening Statement

If you watch Cities of the Underworld, you'll come to the conclusion that every city has a sewer that used to be a river. While most of us don't think about that much, host Don Wildman goes into the sewers, not to mention caves, tunnels, and bunkers, to find out their stories.

Facts of the Case

"We're peeling back the layers of time" once again for Cities of the Underworld: Season 2, which contains 11 episodes on four discs:

Disc One
* "A-Bomb Underground": Don tours a "superbunker" at Hiroshima with a woman who worked as a phone operator. He also visits Japan's modern earthquake and flood protection facilities and explores secret passages in a ninja stronghold.

* "Hitler's Last Secret": In Prague, Don explores a quarry that might have held Hitler's "trump card" and tours an underground weapons factory. He also finds an old city underneath modern Prague that was used by the Czech underground in World War II.

* "Maya Underground": In Belize, Don checks out sites that illuminate the Mayan practices of bloodletting and sacrifice, and seeks clues about the decline of the Mayan civilization.

Disc Two
* "New York Secret Societies": Don reviews the 21 Club's Prohibition-era security system, tours the subway "ghost tunnel," visits a one-time hideout of Chinese tongs, checks out underwater mines, and meets the sandhogs who excavate the city's underground spaces.

* "Prophecies from Below": In Israel, Don finds remnants of the Massacre of the Innocents, investigates ancient battles in cisterns and underground water tunnels, visits a lost city, and finds a secret bullet factory.

* "Secret Soviet Bases": In Ukraine, Don visits a "massive defensive infrastracture" that the Soviets blew up themselves -- with men inside -- to keep it from the Nazis, bunkers from the battle of Kiev, a nuclear sub base, and a bomb shelter for Soviet VIPs.

Disc Three
* "Stalin's Secret Lair": Josef Stalin's hiding places for military control centers and bomb shelters include an apartment block, a stadium, and the Moscow metro. Don also visits the foundation of an uncompleted Soviet showpiece.

* "Underground Apocalypse": Don gets a rare tour of the Dome of the Rock and Mohammed's cave underneath. He also investigates sites associated with the Crusades, John the Baptist, and Armageddon.

* "Washington, D.C.: Seat of Power": Don descends into the city's heavily guarded sewers. He also visits Congress' once-secret bunker, the magazine at Fort McHenry, and a West Virginia cave that supplied the Confederacy with gunpowder.

Disc Four
* "Viking Underground": In Dublin, Don finds an underground river where Vikings once sailed. He also uncovers some long-lost hiding places, the remnants of a foundling hospital, and well-preserved mummies.

* "Vietnam": Don goes into Viet Cong tunnels that went from death traps for Army "tunnel rats" to training grounds for soldiers, visits a village that went underground to escape bombings, and sees the world's largest underground river.

The Evidence

One underground chamber looks pretty much like the next. Fortunately, Cities of the Underworld isn't just about the chambers. It's more about World War II and its effects on the people of Hiroshima or Prague, for example.

"That's the human factor. Brings it home," host Don Wildman even says at one point.

Wildman often makes obvious points just to make sure you get it, but he's an engaging tour guide, even when the fun of watching someone wander through murky sewers wears off. While the series does include CGI, illustrations, and vintage clips, Wildman does a good job of painting a historic scene with words and maybe a couple of objects found in tunnels. He's usually energetic and unflappable, although he does appear a bit claustrophobic -- not to mention wary of the local underground fauna -- in tunnels barely big enough for him to crawl through in Vietnam.

The transfer's okay, albeit with some halos. The music that's constantly under the dialogue can be too loud at times, but the dialogue comes through.

The Season Two volume doesn't contain any extras. That's regrettable because the outtakes on Season One helped viewers get to know the hosts better.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

C'mon. Did Don actually find any secrets in the "New York Secret Societies" episode? It was interesting, true, but not as mysterious as billed.

Cities of the Underworld is entertaining, but watching someone prowl around caves and basements over and over again isn't a made-for-powerwatching experience, since it can get repetitive.

Closing Statement

I'm no urban spelunker. I won't be getting my local sewer schematics and going down for a tour anytime soon. However, I enjoyed watching someone else do it. While some things, like the story of the Greenbriar, were old hat, each episode contained a few new bits of information, and Don Wildman did a good job of making viewers feel what the original tunnel crawlers must have felt.

The Verdict

Not guilty. I've got to go now; I'm feeling a bit claustrophobic from powerwatching three episodes in a row.

Review content copyright © 2009 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 84
Audio: 88
Extras: 0
Acting: 90
Story: 90
Judgment: 85

Perp Profile
Studio: History Channel
Video Formats:
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

* English (SDH)

Running Time: 504 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* None

* IMDb