Some people call Judge Victor Valdivia a "Minuteman." It's probably best not to speculate why.
"I shall win the war by Christmas, and return to London a hero."—British Gen. John Burgoyne, June 1777
Having devoted "megaset" collections to astronomy, military history, and the 1960s, History has assembled its latest fourteen-disc box set around the American Revolution. Surprisingly, it's actually a well-chosen collection. Yes, there are a couple of clinkers here and there, and because the time period and events are so narrowly defined there is a considerable amount of repetition. Still, this does contain some of History's best programs, and will remind viewers of how good History was, once upon a time, before it deteriorated into the netherworld of UFOs, loggers, and whatever the hell Monster Quest is supposed to be.
The Founding of America compiles all of the contents of the Founding Fathers, Founding Brothers, and The Revolution sets. It also adds the discs for the Washington the Warrior and Ben Franklin programs, and two original A&E dramatic films, Benedict Arnold: A Question of Honor and The Crossing. In addition, it also includes most of the content from the original The American Revolution collection. Here are the shows compiled on this set:
The two most unusual additions are the dramatic films, The Crossing and Benedict Arnold. This marks the first time that scripted programming is released under the History name. While both films have their moments, neither one is all that noteworthy. Benedict Arnold, in which Aidan Quinn (The Mission) gives an impressive performance as the tormented and traitorous title character, is the better of the two, but it doesn't really give more than a cursory glimpse at Arnold's life. The Crossing, which tells how George Washington crossed the Delaware River and launched a critical attack at Trenton, wastes Jeff Daniels' decent performance as Washington on a plodding and hackneyed script. Both make decent additions to the set, but it's unlikely you'll watch either one much. Also, viewers should be warned that both contain extremely graphic violence and profanity, so preview them before showing them to more squeamish or easily offended associates.
The real meat of the set are the nonfiction shows, especially The Revolution and The American Revolution. These are the shows that fans who buy this set should pounce on first, since they tell the full story of the revolution in detail, both the good and bad sides. The two shows make good companion pieces to one another. The Revolution is longer, slicker, and more detailed, but The American Revolution has details on some battles and people that are not covered in the other show. The Revolution also loses points because its last two episodes are nothing more than clip shows from the previous 11. Nonetheless, these are the best shows on the set and are easily worth its cost alone.
The other shows are more uneven, but generally solid. Founding Fathers and Founding Brothers consist of biographical profiles of many of the founding fathers, from Washington and Ben Franklin to John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, interspersed with chronological retellings of their times. Founding Fathers, which covers the Revolution, is enjoyable, though it repeats many of the stories heard in both the shows about the war. It's Founding Brothers that's the real treat. It covers the presidencies of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson in detail, explaining many of the issues and controversies that surrounded them and how difficult it was to essentially build the entire U.S. government from scratch. This is a period of history that's often overshadowed by the more epic stories of the war, but in many ways it's far more influential and important, even today. It's nearly as essential as the Revolution programs. The two biographical shows, Washington the Warrior and Ben Franklin, are entertaining enough but rely far too much on rather cheesy reenactments that make them a little hard to watch at times. Also, even though both shows clock in at 90 minutes each, they still wind up as rather superficial and sensationalistic. Even so, both have some moments of insight that make them at least worth a look.
As for extras, the set has some additional episodes of Biography and Save Our History that are more educational and engaging than the feature-length biographies. Several of the shows also come with "making-of" featurettes. These are all your standard behind-the-scenes fare except for the one devoted to Ben Franklin. For some reason, that one turns into a bizarre promo for the Nicolas Cage schlockfest National Treasure and also includes an interminable segment with a Ben Franklin impersonator. Avoid it at all costs. The set is rounded out with some text extras that add little tidbits and trivia for fans who still can't get enough, even with 14 discs. The visual transfer, which alternates between 1.33:1 and 1.78:1, though both non-anamorphic, is decent, though the older shows look a bit rougher than the more recent ones. The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo mix sounds consistently strong on all the shows.
Ultimately, The Founding of America is an excellent buy for value, especially since History has learned to lower the list price on its "megaset" collections. Here are some of History Channel's better shows, compiled in a package that's well-chosen and well-presented. The two shows on the Revolution and Founding Brothers are a must for History fans, and for the cost of getting those, you'll be getting other good programming as well. Though fans who already have most of these programs individually probably don't need this set, those curious to learn about the Revolution will find this is a great place to begin. The Founding of America is most assuredly not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: History Channel
• IMDb: Benedict Arnold: A Question of Honor
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