The last time Judge Kent Dixon saw ancients behaving badly, it was open bar night at the senior center.
"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."—Lord Acton, 1887
Throughout history, there have been great figures who have not only shaped events in their own times, but have also left a legacy that lasts into modern times. It seems for every great leader and historical figure who brought about positive change in the world and shaped events for the better, there are as many or more infamous historical figures whose single-minded ambitions and brutality all but defied human comprehension.
A joint Canadian and British production, Ancients Behaving Badly focuses its attention on eight of the most notable and heinous figures our world has ever known. Before Hitler, Stalin, and Hussein and other more contemporary figures left their black marks on the history books, Caligula, Attila the Hun, Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, Cleopatra, Hannibal, Genghis Khan, and Nero committed atrocities that secured their places as some of the most recognizable names in history.
All eight episodes of Ancients Behaving Badly are included with this release, spread across two discs as follows:
Each episode of the series follows the same basic path, first examining the childhood events that may have pre-determined the future course. From there, psychiatrists, historians and other experts add historical context, forensic and archaeological evidence, and a whole range of other interesting tidbits to paint a more complete picture. The "Behaving Badly psychograph" is also used to map the personalities of each of the series' notorious personalities, comparing them both against one another, and against more contemporary villains such as members of Adolph Hitler's trusted inner circle, drug lords, and other baddies.
Ancients Behaving Badly is great stuff for history buffs, but the content is certainly not for all ages. Not only would younger children be bored by much of the "talking head" content, they would likely also be scared by much of the graphic imagery and detailed descriptions of some of the more nasty acts that were committed by the series' subjects. Despite being a History major in university and my familiarity with many of the events that are referenced in the content of each episode, there was still an above average amount of new information to keep my interest. Most notably, the Roman Empire served as the common denominator of many of the stories, reinforcing the impact the ancient Romans had, both during their own time, and even to this day.
The series does an above average job of pulling together CG images, contemporary footage and interviews, graphic novel-style re-enactments and other content into solid 44-minute packages. Aside from possibly missing the opportunity to add some atmospheric sound and effects, the 2.0 audio mix suits the documentary approach just fine. Not that I've got any concrete suggestions to offer in the way of extra features, but there are none of any kind included with this release.
For all the military, technological, and artistic innovations that resulted from their influence and cultures, the eight leaders profiled in Ancients Behaving Badly were narcissistic, power hungry, and disturbed in many ways. While not ideal for a relaxing evening's entertainment, and more than a little intense for watching more than one episode at a time, the series delivers an interesting and comprehensive profile of eight legendary historical figures.
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