Judge Victor Valdivia is putting together his own documentary on an ancient culture long forgotten. It's called Betamax Fans: Will the Hurting Ever Stop?
"His frame is new. His breast is new. His penis is new. His head is of tin. His teeth are those of a lion. His eyes are those of an eagle. And he sees like an eagle."—Hittite King Hattusili on himself.
With The Hittites, history buffs finally get the first in-depth look at one of history's most fascinating yet obscure civilizations, and it is a worthy and entertaining film.
Facts of the Case
The Hittites is a documentary that chronicles the rise and fall of the empire of Hatti, an ancient people that ruled the region know known as Turkey between the 18th and 12th centuries B.C. Narrated by Jeremy Irons (Die Hard with a Vengeance), it uses reenactments, interviews, and computer animation to tell how the empire rose, how it conquered and ruled the Near East, and how it collapsed.
Who were the Hittites? Barely remembered today, they were at one time possibly the most powerful and advanced civilization in the Near East. They conquered most of Turkey, part of Syria, and even terrorized the Egyptians under Ramses II. Beginning as an unorganized band of tribes known as the Hatti sometime in the 18th century B.C., they gradually unified into an empire under the leadership of the first Hittite king, Hattusili. Hattusili, shrewd and cunning, knew that the only way for his people to acquire land and power was to act as if they already had it. He led the Hittites to settle in the city of Hattusa, declared it the capital, raised an army, and led it to conquest. As the above quote indicates, Hattusili was ahead of this time in knowing the value of good PR, and by proclaiming himself and his army as god-like and invincible was able to intimidate and conquer many of the peoples surrounding Hattusa. In this way, he built up the Hittite empire into a sizable and rich nation, full of enormous wealth and diversity.
The Hittites were not necessarily innovative in their inventions or culture. They assimilated and used the culture, customs, and even gods of the people they conquered. What made the Hittites so unusual and was no doubt a vital part of their success was that they were careful, methodical archivists. More than any other ancient peoples, the Hittites kept meticulous records of every single aspect of their empire. A massive library was at the heart of Hattusa, and was more guarded and treasured than the weapons storage. It was with these records (carved into clay tablets) that the Hittites were able to strategize and plan better than any other empire. By scrupulously detailing every battle, every skirmish, every history of every people they ever encountered, the Hittites were able to build up a storehouse of knowledge that led to their triumphs.
Using such knowledge, as well as many combat and building techniques learned from its conquests, the Hittite empire hit its peak under the dynasty of King Suppiluliuma I and his son Mursili II around 1300 B.C. By that point, the Hittite empire dwarfed Egypt, owned much of the Turkish peninsula (known also as Anatolia), and was dominant in culture and religion. This led to one of the most important battles of the time, the clash between Egypt and Hattusa over Syria at Kadesh in 1274 B.C. Though the battle was ultimately a stalemate, the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II decided it would be foolish to attempt to dislodge the Hittites and he and Hattusili III, Mursili II's son, signed what many consider to be the world's first recorded peace treaty in 1259 B.C. A clay copy of this treaty now hangs in the United Nations building. It was probably the peak of peace and prosperity in the region at the time.
Why did the Hittites collapse? Historians are not entirely sure, since this period is not fully documented by the Hittites themselves. Most believe that as the empire grew, it outreached its resources and lost its grip on its outlying conquests. As it did, internal civil wars and clashes between members of the royal family led to an increasingly divided state. By 1160 B.C., the empire was in ruins. The Hittites themselves were dispersed throughout the region, and their culture and history was lost as time went on. They would be all but forgotten until the late 1800s, when archaeologists in Turkey discovered various artifacts and ruins that told the Hittite story and led to a rediscovery of their civilization.
The Hittites is a solid, well-done introduction to this story. The reenactments are generally useful, although there are some unintentional moments of hilarity. No matter how much red lighting an actor has on his face, it's still not a convincing way to suggest that his character is plotting evil. Also, a battle scene that has only six combatants just doesn't convey heroics very well. Apart from those flaws, the reenactments do help to paint a more vivid picture of the Hittites. Several scholars discuss the Hittites' legacy, and some computer animation gives a clear look at what the capital city of Hattusa may have looked and sounded like. The battles the Hittites fought are not actually dissected in as much detail, so military buffs may be somewhat disappointed. In every other respect, though, this is as clear a picture of Hittite culture and history as can probably be reconstructed. History and documentary buffs will find plenty to like here.
The DVD is presented in 1.33:1 full-screen with a stereo mix and looks and sounds acceptable. Sadly, there are no extras. A timeline of Hittite history or a gallery of Hittite artifacts would have been welcome.
The Hittites is recommended for anyone interested in ancient history, despite the lack of extras. It's a commendable documentary that tells a fascinating story in a clear and compelling way.
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