Appellate Judge James A. Stewart thinks Neanderthals versus Cro-Magnons must have made a great football rivalry.
Our review of The Prehistoric Collection, published May 30th, 2009, is also available.
"It's Neanderthals versus Cro-Magnons for control of the Earth."
First, though, it was Neanderthals versus Cro-Magnons for a meal of reindeer. History's Clash of the Cavemen opens with the two almost identical species separately hunting a herd. As it turns out, the Cro-Magnons have better weapons, so the Neanderthals go hungry. So hungry, in fact, that they eat one of their own.
All of this is reenacted by actors in bad makeup and prosthetics. How bad? So bad a Geico ad could do it.
The reenactments are enhanced by illustrations and backed up by expert talking heads who provide the actual facts about the cavemen.
The facts, basically, are that Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons co-existed in Europe for five thousand years, but the Cro-Magnons somehow wiped out the Neanderthals. The Cro-Magnons, if you haven't figured it out, are early us.
Although there's conflict between the two species, the documentary mostly points out the differences between the two groups of cavemen—with all the advantages landing in the Cro-Magnon camp.
In other words, you get some real information, but it's presented with a heavy side order of cheese, in the form of those reenactments. One segment, which goes back and forth between the reenactors and drawings as it dramatizes a Neanderthal attack on a woolly rhinoceros, has got to be the worst couple of minutes of film ever aired on History. Alert viewers might also recognize that the experts admit they're doing a lot of speculating, but the reenactments infer a lot.
The picture quality is rather good; it's a recent, shot-for-widescreen production. The sound of talking heads, Neanderthal grunts, and pulsing music with a drum beat comes across well, too.
Forget extras. Either the producers didn't have any leftover footage around, or they were embarrassed to show it.
Clash of the Cavemen presents a mixed bag. The experts seem to know their stuff and present the theories well, and the research breakthroughs presented are interesting, but the reenactments are done badly. For a few of you, that could be a plus, but I'll regard it as a natural hazard of the documentary genre to be considered. Heck, if you catch it on TV after a night at the local watering hole, you might love it.
Guilty of trying too hard to make its lesson in evolution entertaining.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: History Channel
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