BBC Video // 2003 // 770 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Christopher Kulik (Retired) // November 15th, 2008
"Incisive, fascinating, and dramatic, Days That Shook The World brings to life truly seismic moments in modern history. These are the events that changed the we view the world." -- promotional tagline
I approached this DVD set with both expectations and reservations. The agenda is certainly not without interest, but I wondered how everything was going to play out. There's no denying what the landmark events of the 20th century really are and everyone is pretty much familiar with them after taking history classes in high school. Nevertheless, someone got the idea of focusing on those singular events, and we now have all thirteen episodes (including the pilot) of Days That Shook The World on DVD:
"First in Flight: The Wright Brothers and the Moon Landing (Pilot)"
"The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and the Death of Diana"
"The Assassination of Archibald Ferdinand and the Death of Hitler"
"The Assassination of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Release of Nelson Mandela"
"The Murder of the Romanovs and the Fall of the Berlin Wall"
"Kristallnacht and the Birth of Israel"
"Tutankhamen's Tomb and the Rosetta Stone"
"The First Nuclear Reaction and Chernobyl"
"Black September and Lockerbie"
"The Assassination of JFK and the Resignation of Nixon"
"Marconi's First Transatlantic Radio Transmission and the Concorde's First Transatlantic Flight"
"Chuck Yeager and Bluebird"
After I finished Days That Shook The World: Pilot and Season One, I actually wanted to re-take my history class in high school. This BBC series proves conclusively that Ken Burns is the only history documentarian whose work should be required viewing for one and all. Despite its ambitious nature and honorable intentions, Days That Shook The World ends up being a huge waste of time, considering the fact it fails to understand what made these events so earth-shattering in the first place. Yes, here is documentary which actually ignores why we study history in the first place, opting instead to take a dramatized, all-for-naught approach. Certainly such landmark events deserve a better cinematic account.
The usual assembly of talking heads is discarded for the re-created footage. This is the primary reason why Days That Shook The World simply doesn't work when attempted to cast light and shadow on these events. The most obvious flaw is there's just no perspective being offered, even though we occasionally get diary readings or speeches overlapping the re-enactments. It's only when archival footage is utilized in which the series does come to life, though these moments are few and far between. There's something off-putting watching an actor playing, say, Martin Luther King, Jr. and we never hear him say anything and restricted to the background when he should take center stage. It's even more annoying when we have to waste time on, say, army personnel shenanigans and clichéd dramatic devices such as heavy breathing while disarming a bomb ("Hiroshima"), especially when we want to know who was doing the disarming and how he really felt.
In case you haven't noticed, the producers also decided to present two events per episode (the only exception is "Hiroshima"). A link is blatantly used to give these events more credence and importance...something in which they don't need anyway. Occasionally, the link is rather tenuous at best, like the supposed parallels between the JFK assassination and the Nixon resignation. Other times, it's so glaring even Homer Simpson could see the connection, like with the first flights in the pilot episode and the first nuclear reaction/Chernobyl. These are simply weak attempts for the documentary to be profound and intelligent; as a result, the presentations are come off as more Barney-style than lucid or rewarding. Even the narration is botched in that it prefers to remain in the circle of common sense rather than achieve some kind of greater understanding when it comes to these events.
This series debuted five years ago on the History Channel, though even they're smart enough to not have anything to do with this DVD release. BBC Video gives us 1.85:1, anamorphically-enhanced versions of all the episodes on a pair of dual-layered discs. The picture are clean for the most part, with the blending of occasionally grainy footage and newly filmed footage tolerable for the most part. On the audio side, we have a satisfactory DD 2.0 Stereo track, as well as English subtitles, despite the fact the dialogue is easily discernible. No extras.
Trust me when I say you'd be much better off picking up a history book on
these events, as Days That Shook The World is pretty much a filmed
version of Wikipedia. The court finds the doc very guilty, but gives BBC Video a
reduced sentence due to a decent presentation.
Review content copyright © 2008 Christopher Kulik; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 770 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated