National Geographic // 2010 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Kent Dixon (Retired) // June 24th, 2010
Celebrate the 25th anniversary of Explorer, the longest-running documentary series in cable television history.
There are few organizations as synonymous with high-quality documentary production as the National Geographic Society. Formed in 1888 and based in Washington, DC, the Society is the largest non-profit educational and scientific organization in the world. Most of us are familiar with the Society thanks to its long-standing magazine that has been published faithfully, for 12 issues every year, dating back to 1888.
In 1964, the Society branched out and began producing documentaries for television that first aired on CBS, before moving to other networks, including PBS. In April 1985, the Society launched a new TV series called National Geographic Explorer, or simply Explorer, in an effort to provide a more cost-effective alternative to its more elaborate and larger-scale documentary projects. In the late '90s, the Society launched the National Geographic Channel internationally, and then in the U.S. in 2001; featuring documentaries produced about famous scientific figures and narrated by actors such as Glenn Close, Richard Kiley, Stacey Keach, and Martin Sheen.
Over its history, National Geographic Explorer has visited 120 countries and every continent, produced more than 2,000 films and won 400 awards. In honor of reaching the quarter century landmark since the series began, National Geographic has released Explorer: 25 Years to look back at how our lives and our world have changed since the series debuted. The documentary is hosted by journalist Lisa Ling, who has hosted Explorer since 2003, so fans of the series should feel right at home. Viewers with a keen ear will also hear the familiar voice of actor and veteran narrator Peter Coyote (E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial) adding context to the clips. Between Ling and Coyote, viewers are in capable and skilled hands to be served an extensive buffet of Explorer content from the past quarter century.
It's hard not to be amazed at the breadth and depth of content included in this release, especially when you consider its relatively modest 90 minute run time. The feature contains excerpts from 43 different episodes from the Explorer archives, giving an average of two minutes of attention to the content from each. It's a skillful production team indeed who can pull together that much footage, covering so many different topics and subject areas without winding up feeling disjointed. It also takes a skilled editor to blend all that disparate footage into a cohesive package like Explorer: 25 Years.
With footage dating back to 1986 and as recent as 2009, the picture and sound quality vary somewhat throughout, but never to any significant degree as to take away from the amazing content. This release also includes the complete Explorer episodes "Africa Extreme" and "Search for the Afghan Girl."
For those who are familiar with Explorer and have followed it in its many incarnations over the years, there are likely many familiar moments included here. For those who know little of National Geographic beyond the magazine, get ready for a 90-minute journey of exploration and discovery that touches on an amazing array of topics from politics and war, to natural wonders, history and scientific achievement.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: National Geographic
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus Episodes
* Official Website