Case Number 20300: Small Claims Court


History Channel // 2009 // 611 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // December 11th, 2010

The Charge

Travel through the tumultuous 4.5 billion year history of our planet.

The Case

How The Earth Was Made: The Complete Season One (Blu-ray) is a History Channel documentary series through and through. If you've seen one before, you should know exactly what to expect here: flashy CGI re-creations, excessively dramatic music, and narration and lots of sweeping panoramic helicopter shots. The end result is a much overproduced and slick production that screams danger at every turn, even when the subject matter itself is tame and banal. Thankfully, the science always manages to shine through.

Combining on-location footage, interviews from geologists and scientists, and CGI graphics, How The Earth Was Made: The Complete Season One (Blu-ray) dives into the exploration of how the forces of geology have shaped our world over millions of years. Focusing on well-known locations and geological phenomena, How The Earth Was Made: The Complete Season One (Blu-ray) presents all thirteen episodes from the first season:

* "San Andreas Fault"
* "The Deepest Place on Earth"
* "Krakatoa"
* "Loch Ness"
* "New York"
* "Driest Place on Earth"
* "Great Lakes"
* "Yellowstone"
* "Tsunami"
* "Asteroids"
* "Iceland"
* "Hawaii"
* "The Alps"

In comparison to the standalone feature from which the series originated, How The Earth Was Made, the pacing in How The Earth Was Made: The Complete Season One is less frenetic, but no less dramatic. With thirteen episodes and over ten hours of run time, History gets a chance to stretch its legs and dive deeper into niche areas of the geological landscape of our planet. The San Andreas Fault is a no-brainer, but locations like Iceland and Loch Ness, which are no less fascinating from a geological perspective, get their day in the sun. On the other hand, History simply can't resist the temptation to overdramatize the minutest of on-screen events. Narrated by Corey Johnson, who enunciates his words like an action hero, events that happened millions of years ago -- or will happen in millions of years -- are accompanied by pounding kettle drums and words like "danger" and "catastrophe."

Emotional manipulations aside, How The Earth Was Made: The Complete Season One gets the job done educationally, balancing on a knife-edge point between pandering and pontification. The History folk have become remarkably proficient in kicking out production after production that strikes an amicable balance between nerdish intellectualism and overproduced mainstream fodder. Personally, I'd like to see more facts and less kettle drums, but I am sympathetic to the plight of cable television networks in this modern age. Hey, you need people to tune in to pay the bills. The most impressive moments, ironically, are the most low-key ones; simple interview footage with knowledgeable scientists and subject matter experts imparting their knowledge on audiences, like how Loch Ness and the Catskill Mountains are from the same source.

The most detrimental issue is repetition. With ten hours of running time, History has an unfortunate habit of repeating itself endlessly throughout the series, recycling graphics, talking points and concepts endlessly. If the assumption is that the typical viewer will be flipping through channels and only tune into a single episode, this assembly serves the series well, ensuring each episode is self-contained and complete. For fans who watch multiple episodes, however, it gets extremely tedious. The endless recapping after every commercial break does not help matters.

Presented in 1080i, How The Earth Was Made: The Complete Season One (Blu-ray) alternates between crisp high-definition footage, ho-hum CGI simulations, and scratchy archival footage. The HD interviews and panoramic landscape shots are sharp and clean, slightly saturated in red tones. The CGI sequences get the job done, but are overdramatic. If you have the choice between this and the standard DVD version, definitely get the Blu-ray version, if only for the improved (and often quite marvelous) high-definition landscape and helicopter sequences.

Audio comes in a DTS-HD Master Audio stereo presentation, which is predictably boisterous and pounding. Strong bass, clear dialogue, and an excessively active and overexcited score make for a lively sonic presentation, if slightly one-dimensional. English subtitles are included, but there are no special features or supplemental materials.

Despite the slick overproduction, How The Earth Was Made: The Complete Season One (Blu-ray) delivers enough facts and information about geology and the formation of the Earth to warrant viewing. In many ways, this series perfectly personifies the undeniable appeal of History productions: you may get trapped initially by the thundering drums and the corny narration and the imminent sense of danger just beyond the commercial break, but before you know it, you're learning. A nice trick, that.

The Verdict

Unnecessarily dramatic, but not guilty.

Review content copyright © 2010 Adam Arseneau; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 83

Perp Profile
Studio: History Channel
Video Formats:
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080i)

Audio Formats:
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)

* English

Running Time: 611 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* None

* IMDb