History Channel // 2011 // 88 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // June 9th, 2012
13.7 billion years in the making.
If the History Channel really wanted to brag about their efficiency, they'd have changed the time in the title to 88 minutes, the actual running time and a far more impressive boast. They at least have that, because the quality of History of the World in Two Hours leaves a whole lot to be desired, even with the 3D gimmick.
Starting at the Big Bang, narrator Corey Burton whips us through billions of years in just a few minutes, but this is a history of our world, not the entire universe. The timeline progressively slows down as we learn about the formation of Earth and the moon, the generation of life on the planet, to animals coming out of the ocean. The dinosaurs get their do, as do early mammals and primates, but it really slows down once it gets into early humanity and, finally, the emergence of modern civilization.
The essential question that Burton asks is how these events connect to each other, each necessary for the next step that leads to humanity and our current world. It isn't really fair to say that History of the World in Two Hours glosses over every aspect of its story, giving only the briefest details before moving on in time, sometimes jumping millions of years at a time. Of course it does, and it's impressive that they were able to fit so much information into such a time frame, but I simply expect more from history and scientific programming than this happened and then this and then this. I understand why it had to be this way, but it doesn't teach audiences very much.
Instead, History of the World in Two Hours prefers to dazzle viewers with its graphics and trashy storytelling rather than deliver any real substance. In fact, the show is so enthralled with its flashy look, the scenes deliver essentially no more information than a diorama, even with narration and motion. On top of it, the program stunts its detail even further by adding pre-commercial break hooks to keep viewers watching and post-commercial recaps to remind us of what just happened (because, obviously, there's so much detail that audiences can't remember what happened four minutes before), bringing any new information down to around 75 minutes. The producers had ambitious ideas, but they basically fail on any level. Spend a little more time with smarter programming and a much cooler story about the universe comes to life.
History of the World in Two Hours is specifically produced for the 3D format, but the 3D Blu-ray from History features both 3D and 2D versions. The program is so entrenched in its 3D graphics, though, that watching it normally is a frustrating experience and I wouldn't watch it without the glasses, though I hardly recommend it with them. It isn't a high budget production, so the CG is far from top-shelf, but some of the space graphics are well designed and look cool. The problem is that the technology isn't really used to give depth of field as much as throwing explosions in your face, which is not what I'm looking for in a historical presentation. When they do use it to give life to a scene, it looks especially cheap, with a skeleton set and actors in front of really bad 3D paintings. The image, overall, is a little dark in places, which is to be expected, but is mostly sharp with nice, rich colors. The sound is another annoyance. Why go to the trouble of releasing it in 3D only to include a standard Dolby surround mix and a soft one at that? It's clear enough, but given the number of explosions in the production, I would have expected something a whole lot punchier. No extras on the disc at all.
It's admirable, I suppose, to try encapsulating the entire history of the universe inside a single sitting, but while the information is valid and often interesting, the presentation is too flashy and the production is far too dependent on hot 3D imagery to really be that vital. In a couple of years, I predict it will look terribly dated, so even for schools looking to add something like this to their library, the appeal is very limited.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: History Channel
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (3D 1080p)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (German)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated