PBS // 2013 // 60 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // April 20th, 2013
A crucial turning point in ancient military history.
Though many of 2013's Nova episodes have veered into rather sensationalistic territory (titles include Doomsday Volcanoes, Who Killed Lindbergh's Baby? and Mind of a Rampage Killer), it remains one of the most valuable programs on television. Exploring fascinating subjects in considerable depth over the course of an hour, the program offers a great deal of meaty insight into its assorted subjects while plenty of other edutainment shows toss in copious amounts of useless fluff (I'm looking at you, History). Building Pharaoh's Chariot is another winner, a somewhat dry but nonetheless absorbing examination of an important turning point in Egyptian history.
According to documents written on the walls of assorted Egyptian tombs and temples, the chariot played an important role in Egyptian warfare thousands of years ago. Though some believe the Egyptians may have been using more advanced technology than other chariot-equipped cultures, no one really seems to know for sure. As such, a team of experts assembles for the purpose of building two exact replicas of ancient Egyptian royal chariots. Simply figuring out how to properly make each piece proves to be a considerable challenge, as those involved very much want to limit themselves to crafting things the way the Egyptians would have.
As the chariots begin to come together over the course of a month, a number of remarkable discoveries are made. It seems that the Egyptians not only understood the basic, obvious value of a chariot in warfare, but also managed to use some surprisingly sophisticated techniques. We see the chariot's primitive shock absorbers, springs, anti-roll bars and -- believe it or not -- even a rearview mirror. There's a bit of dramatic tension when the team member responsible for handling the horses insists that the chariots sport an inhumane design. Another team member insists that the Egyptians have taken the horses into account, leading to a spirited debate on whether or not the reins were properly designed. And then...well, I'll let you discover the rest on your own.
Building Pharaoh's Chariot offers a sturdy standard-def 1.78:1 transfer. It's not one of the most visually-remarkable Nova specials -- we're focusing on ordinary craftsmen doing carpentry work rather than gazing at far-away galaxies -- but it's clean and clear throughout. The Dolby 2.0 Stereo mix gets the job done nicely, and there's a good balance between captured footage and scripted narration. No supplements of any sort are included on the list.
I wouldn't go so far as to call this one of my favorite Nova installments, but it's never dull and I suppose it's essential viewing for budding Egyptologists. Give it a look.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 60 Minutes
Release Year: 2013
MPAA Rating: Not Rated