Case Number 25077: Small Claims Court


PBS // 2012 // 60 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // January 6th, 2013

The Charge

Be amazed -- or disappointed -- at where the human race came from!

The Case

What makes us...well, "us"? In other words, what makes us human? Nova: Science Now explores this idea with four segments about how the human race turned out the way it did, packaged as What Makes Us Human?. In "Neanderthals 'R' Us" we find out that humans and our ancestors, the Neanderthals, may have "gotten jiggy with it," and we each may have Neanderthal DNA flowing through our veins. In "Stone Age Language Mystery" we look at how language may have been used primitively by our ancestors. "Evolution of Laughter" takes a look at how babies giggling isn't just adorable but also a possible survival instinct. Finally, there's "Profile: Zeresenay Alemseged," about an Ethiopian anthropologist who discovers the world's oldest human fossil bones -- over 3.3 million years old!

What Makes Us Human? is a brief but interesting show about how humans evolved into our present selves. It's based on science and data and presented in an amusing way with host David Pogue. The show presents theories on how we developed language and how laughter is something that keeps us alive; since human babies are the weakest and least to survive on their own, their laughter keeps their parents continuing to come back to make sure they don't perish (otherwise, much like gerbils, they'd probably eat their young). The fact that we all have Neanderthal DNA inside of us is fascinating; while we want to think of ourselves as evolved, intelligent beings, the sobering fact is that our forefathers were having sex with big browed cave people (this would sufficiently explain the Kardashian family). In one sequence they show a set of monkeys from orangutans to gorillas and how, as each moves closer to our DNA strand, their laughter sounds more like a human laugh.

The host of What Makes Us Human? is writer David Pogue (who works for The New York Times), who makes everything light and breezy. Although I didn't find Pogue to be overly amusing (a lot of his jokes fall flat), he's an amiable personality who makes all the jargon and technical science stuff go down a lot easier for us laymen. This DVD is fairly short; it lasts a scant hour, with each section given around 15 minutes of focus. The most interesting segment in What Makes Us Human? is the one featuring Zeresenay Alemseged's story; Alemseged grew up in the impoverished Ethiopia and, against all odds, went on to become a leading scientist making huge strides in connecting modern-day humans to our ancestors. Alemseged's story is intriguing and far worthier of just a single short 15-minute segment.

What Makes Us Human? is a quick overview of our scientific history. There's nothing too astonishing, but it's entertaining enough that the time passes rather quickly. Kids will eat up the facts, as well as the scene where the host is dressed in Hollywood makeup to take to the street as a Neanderthal. What Makes Us Human? is recommended to anyone who has ever wondered where we came from and, jointly, where the human race might be headed.

What Makes Us Human? is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The transfer looks good but is nothing spectacular; this is an interview-driven series, so the images don't have a lot of pop. The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. The dialogue, music, and effects work is clearly distinguishable, which is about all that's warranted for a DVD like this. Also included on this disc are English subtitles.

There are no extra features included on this disc.

The Verdict

Worth a rental, if you're into history and science.

Review content copyright © 2013 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 85

Perp Profile
Studio: PBS
Video Formats:
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

* English

Running Time: 60 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* None

* IMDb