History Channel // 2012 // 552 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // December 26th, 2012
I guess some species thinks it's pretty awesome.
From The History Channel and the people behind America: The Story of Us comes another documentary series about homo sapiens, this time cast with a broader net. Forget America; it's all about the world now, complete with plagues, wars, religions, and sailboats, bound together in thirteen 50-minute episodes and pumped out in HD for your Blu-ray viewing pleasure.
Each show tackles a segment of humanity, tracking the themes from proto-history through contemporary society, criss-crossing the globe to look at varying cultures and how they interact with the episode-specific subject matter. The result is an epic-feeling effort that's a lot less exhaustive than it seems, but there's sweeping stock music and slow motion sequences of dudes in Roman Centurion gear running with swords aloft, so who cares how comprehensive the research is?
That, I reckon, would be the likeliest criticism to be slung at Mankind: The Story of All of Us. It's so slick and so cinematic that the academics in the audience might scoff. But that's not what the filmmakers were after. This feels very much like a pop-history endeavor, with style and presentation taking a front-seat to painstaking detail and footnotes. "If you want to get your learning on," says my projected embodiment of Mankind if it were to be a sentient being, "go renew your library card."
If anything, Mankind: The Story of All of Us strikes me as the type of television series a history teacher desperate to engage his hapless middle-schoolers might cling to. If the books aren't doing the trick and the class is poised to begin rioting, why not fire up the school's sexy new Blu-ray player and spin these discs for a good part of the semester? There's plenty of content to sort through and the 550+ minutes of runtime will ensure lesson plans won't need to get written for at least a week or so.
Besides, that's where Mankind: The Story of All of Us works best, as a springboard to a deeper investigation into the content. Jesus and the rise of Christianity may get a piddling fifteen minutes, but it's obvious the narrator thinks quite highly of the religion's impact on world events. So there you go. You want to learn more? Go grab yourself a concordance and get cracking!
The same applies to the myriad other world history highlights. The Plague! Farming! People running fast to get away from lions! The Greek Phalanx! And so much more. If you don't want to be let down by what Mankind: The Story of All of Us has in store for you -- and a cursory glance at some of the Amazon reviews reveals there more than a few disappointed in the less-than-rigid applications of scholarly discipline -- I suggest entering the show with in-check expectations. This is the Michael Bay version of World History Cliff's Notes. There are gaps and oversights, but the point is to make past events sexy and accessible. Maybe there's a chance you'll forget about that pointless career in refrigeration repair, enroll in a four-year liberal arts college, and owe the government $150,000 for the privilege of a degree in world history and lucrative future in latte engineering and distribution.
Still, I have little use for these hip re-enactment-heavy productions. This is my bias showing, as I reflexively recoil at the sight of low-budget scenarios featuring actors dolled up in regalia doing their best to emote silently in hopes that a director of an antiperspirant commercial will be so moved by their nuanced performance as Hoplite #3. Since Mankind: The Story of All of Us is pretty much 90% dramatic live-action retelling, with just a few moments devoted to expert analysis (including Dr. Oz!), I got my fill very early on.
The good news is on Blu-ray, it all looks and sounds super-neat. The show scores an AVC-encoded, 1.78:1/1080p high def widescreen transfer that delivers exceptional picture quality. This being a new production, Mankind: The Story of All of Us appears built for the HD world and the solid visual fidelity proves it. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track dishes out the cinematic-soundtrack/burly-narrative easily enough. Bonus themed history segments (in HD) are your extras.
Not Guilty, but I'd rather read a Wikipedia entry. Thanks anyway.
Review content copyright © 2012 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: History Channel
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 552 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus Scenes