Judge Adam Arseneau stuck his head inside the Total Perspective Vortex for a piece of fairy cake.
Our reviews of How The Earth Was Made: The Complete Season One (published August 27th, 2009), How The Earth Was Made: The Complete Season One (Blu-Ray) (published December 11th, 2010), How The Earth Was Made: The Complete Season Two (published June 19th, 2010), and The Universe: Collector's Set (published November 5th, 2008) are also available.
Travel through the tumultuous 4.5 billion year history of our planet.
Like the earth? Want to know how it was made? Got ninety minutes? Great! Here, watch this DVD.
Facts of the Case
Assaulted for millennium by meteors, covered in carbon dioxide, water, lava and ice, the history of our planet has been a twisting and dramatic affair. From a seething ocean of radioactive molten rock to a teeming planet of life, How The Earth Was Made takes viewers on a step-by-step time line of the birth and maturation of our planet into the Earth we know today—a tale spanning over four billion years.
Viewers with even a passing interest in geology, history and biology will find fascinating elements in How The Earth Was Made spattered throughout in healthy doses. For a History Channel documentary, the film is surprisingly verbose in its explanation of exactly how our planet came to be, interviewing various talking heads of science in geographically relevant on-site locations like South Africa, Australia, Utah and other such rocky vacation hot spots. As a human who can tie his own shoes, I appreciate the forthright presentation in this documentary, which uses big science-like words like "biomass", "supercontinent" and "volcanism" readily.
Though the scope of the film is awfully large for a ninety minute documentary, How The Earth Was Made covers its bases surprisingly well, taking viewers through a step-by-step evolution of our planet, morphing from a lumpy collection of space rocks into the lush biomass we know today. Did you catch the big word we used there? Hint: it starts with a "B". Notable chapter marks include the cooling of the globe, the slow formation of water, the emergence of granite to form continental masses, increasing oxygen production from stromatolites (another one of those big words), the ice age et al, all covered at a brisk yet enjoyable pace, striking a surprisingly good balance between casual channel-flipping enjoyment and nerdiness. Even more interesting to the more curious viewer, the documentary focuses on the oft-maligned and ridiculed visionaries who first proposed the various theories now taken as scientific fact: Alvarez, Kelvin, and other such notable scientists who helped put together the pieces of our global puzzle.
Where How The Earth Was Made exceeds is expressing the vast concept of time in cosmology; or to be more specific, the utter insignificance of human concepts of time when placed into comparison. After all, us humans have only existed for barely the tiniest of iotas of time compared to the immensely massive scale of our planet; a fraction of a fraction of the entire span of our planet. A helpful on-screen calendar shows us exactly how pathetic we rank in the grand scale. Suffice it to say, the planet teemed with life for billions of years before we even figured out how to bang those rocks together. The more you dwell on such large matters, the more humbling the documentary becomes. This is not an adjective one normally applies to a History Channel documentary, but here we are.
Packaged in 100% recycled materials (similar to the packaging of An Inconvenient Truth) the technical presentation of How The Earth Was Made is solidly average. The source material clearly taken straight from the broadcast tapes (we even get the graphic overlay after each commercial break) the letterboxed transfer is clean and well-saturated, but garbles up on close examination. The fidelity is lacking from what one would expect from a documentary, but is probably standard fare for these straight-to-DVD History Channel excretions. Some of the CGI effects are a bit on the goofy side, like when we get into the dinosaur section, but the feature gets by on minimal effects and recycled documentary footage. The audio track is a simple clean 2.0 stereo transfer, with good bass and clean dialogue, but not much else going for it. It sounds okay, but lacks any oomph.
In terms of extras, we get ten minutes of addition scenes and a second standalone documentary, "Inside The Volcano". With a ninety-minute running time, it practically justifies its own DVD release, so it is nice to get twice the geological bang for your buck. Plus, volcanoes are just plain gnarly.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Narrated by Edward Hermann (Gilmore Girls) How The Earth Was Made is more laid back in its dramatic narrative than previous offerings by the History Channel (we're glaring in your direction, Life After People). Unfortunately, it seems like the producers were on Hermann's back to ham up his delivery as much as possible, so we get amazingly stupid commercial break transitions trying to cliff hang the ice age into some dramatic event.
"The whole planet…WAS DYING."
You know…before there was any life on the planet. Oh the humanity!
Cosmology is a fascinating subject and How The Earth Was Made does it justice, albeit quickly. Nothing like seeing 4.5 billion years crammed into a solid ninety minutes. Still, as History Channel fare goes, this is surprisingly good stuff.
A bit corny at times, but a solidly engaging documentary overall.
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