History Channel // 2006 // 94 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // July 11th, 2007
You know a period of history sucked when the Bubonic Plague may have been the high point.
Adding further support to my theory that it would absolutely blow to live in the Dark Ages, the History Channel presents The Dark Ages, a 90-minute documentary that chronicles this tumultuous period of European history. The HC game plan is in full effect, and it's a winner: combine expert testimony with narration from a guy with a macho voice and dramatic recreations with horses and period costumes and swords and shields and all the rest and -- dare I say it?! -- and the past will be brought to life!
This stretch of human history has always interested me. Between the twilight of the Roman Empire and the dawn of the Renaissance, some bad @#$% went down and the European bloodshed was unending. Throw in the Bubonic Plague, Moorish invaders, Christian conversion at sword-point, Viking pillagers and the Crusades and you're looking at a few centuries' worth of brutality.
This special nails all the high points, running though the major players and events in chronological order, from the Visigoth sacking of the Western Roman Empire and the resurgence of the Byzantines to Charlemagne's rule and beyond, into the Holy Roman Empire, the Viking invasion of Britain and the Moorish invasion of France, Alfred the Great's and Charles "The Hammer's" defense of both countries, and finally landing at the siege of the Holy Land. Hundreds of years, countless extras, a few horses and a handful of prop heads. The sum total was a highly engaging and extremely well-executed telling of this history and The Dark Ages stands as on the finest History Channel programs I've ever seen.
The reenactments in these features usually vary between decent and corny, but the on-set work performed by the History Channel's troupe is pretty good. While the speaking lines are limited, the physical stuff these folks do -- sword-fighting, arrow firing, horse maneuvering, etc. -- is packed with gusto. Aiding our wannabe thespians are the production values, which are impressive. The costuming is convincing and the settings look suitably dank and crappy, exactly the way I picture settings in the Dark Ages to look. There's even a convincing beheading! Score!
On the education side, the featured experts know their stuff and flesh out the history well. In addition, maps ad other visual aids are employed to augment the learnin' and go well towards supplementing the dramatic presentations.
Overall, it's whirlwind tour of a pivotal -- and wholly depressing -- time in the development of modern-day Western civilization, done with panache and skill. The History Channel continues to be the go-to source for this brand of "infotainment."
The gravy is this disc packs some great extras. While the full frame, 2.0 stereo treatment is nothing more than merely adequate, disc longevity can be found in the bonus materials, which includes a full-length 90-minute program based solely on the Bubonic Plague and a nifty making-of featurette.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: History Channel
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* "The Plauge" Bonus Program
* Making-of Feature