History Channel // 2008 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Christopher Kulik (Retired) // February 25th, 2009
It seems whenever someone in the scientific community presents a radical new theory they are either ignored or rejected for "defying" their own instructors. Ptolemy was the last one to re-emphasize a geocentric (Earth-centered) universe, before being shot down by Copernicus who was convinced the Sun was the nucleus of the solar system. In Copernicus' time, rebelling against the Church -- who viewed the Aristotelian universe as gospel -- was considered heresy. Johannes Kepler's laws of planetary motion and Galileo's telescopic organizations caused backlash, not respect, and their reputations wouldn't be positively sealed until long after their deaths.
Then came Isaac Newton. We've all heard the falling apple story and indeed it led to his three laws of motion. What many don't know is that even Newton wasn't fully satisfied with his explanation of gravity, and it wasn't until a bright German fellow named Albert Einstein came along that a more detailed and thorough theory was offered. For decades, Einstein labored away at his masterpiece -- the General Theory of Relativity -- which, among other things, stated that time and space work in compliance with each other. When an object is travelling through space, it concurrently travels through time and "stretches" to the point where it looks like the object is bending in its trajectory. When Einstein first proposed the theory (then known as "Special") in 1905, the scientific community never even acknowledged it. To them, the concept made no sense and proving it would be virtually impossible.
This History Channel documentary focuses on the most intense years of Einstein's life (1905-1922). Those looking for a more comprehensive look at the man behind the theory are advised to look elsewhere, as childhood and later years are merely summarized in a few seconds. Still, there is much to absorb here and we get to know Einstein through photographs, letters, and recorded struggles to prove his mind-bending theory. On this level, Einstein is more than satisfactory, and the usual collection of talking heads are both informative and ingratiating in explaining Einstein's goals and how they affected his personal life. From the publication of four papers in 1905 to the history-making solar eclipse photos of 1922 (which finally proved the General Theory of Relatively), this gives us a breakdown of the theory in Barney-style terms and how Einstein kept re-working it for years.
One thing which sets this doc apart from others broadcast on the History Channel is the limited use of "re-created footage." For some odd reason, this works for Unsolved Mysteries, but feels hopelessly fake when utilized for portraits of historical figures. I would have settled for the photographs, vintage footage, and engaging speakers alone, rather than the Channel's necessity to tell facts in alternative ways. Thankfully, this artistic fetish is toned down greatly here and makes for a more educational viewing experience, one in which Ken Burns and others have thrived on. Viewers will also be pleased by the simple, down-to-earth definitions of Einstein's theories, which most who dislike science are unable to wrap their heads around. Using simple graphics and props, the theory makes sense and thus we become invested in Einstein's quest. If this didn't work, Einstein would have suffered immensely. As a result, we have a most fascinating saga of a man and his work.
As with most History Channel documentaries, Einstein's technical presentation is far from spectacular, but palatable enough. The 1.78:1 non-anamorphic print is clean for the most part, with the vintage footage exhibiting an expected amount of grain and anomalies. The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track also does its job. There are no subtitles, but the disc is closed captioned. There are no extras. Again, not stylish but presentable. My only quibble is the wrong running time printed on the back of the case; the doc is 90 minutes, not 94.
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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