Judge Roman Martel is already an expert on ancient Egypt. He's watched all three of those Brendan Fraser Mummy movies.
Our reviews of Instant Expert: Ben Franklin (published September 25th, 2010), Instant Expert: Beowulf (published August 21st, 2010), Instant Expert: The Mayflower (published October 9th, 2010), and Instant Expert: The Story Of Oil (published October 9th, 2010) are also available.
"…an exciting new line of titles offering on-the-spot knowledge to students and lifelong learners on a wide variety of topics," Today's topic is ancient Egypt.
A quick glance at the cover for this DVD reveals that The History Channel put this together with school use in mind. There's a study guide and interactive quiz included. This piqued my curiosity. Lately I haven't been a fan of the channels tendency to promote sensationalism over interesting and informative programming. Sure it's entertaining to speculate wildly about history, but I enjoy a bit more fact and less fiction in my documentaries. I figured if History is targeting this for schools, maybe they toned down the flash for this DVD.
Turns out they did, in a round about way. Once you start the program, the first thing you see is Egypt: Engineering an Empire. This is good. The Engineering an Empire series is one of the most informative and interesting productions that History ever created. It's also got Robocop, I mean Peter Weller, wandering around inside pyramids and tombs. What history student doesn't want a little more Peter Weller in their lives?
Kidding aside, there is a lot of great information here and it's presented with a good mix of goofy reenactments, computer reconstructions, on-site footage, and historical experts; including the infamous Zahi Hawass. The show essentially takes you on a journey through the civilization of ancient Egypt. It starts with unification of Egypt under Pharaoh Menes around 3100 BC and ends with Ramesses II in 1213 BC. Yeah that's a lot of time to cover, but since the show focuses on engineering and building, we really jump from monument to monument stopping at key points in the empire's history to describe events that surround or lead up to the building of these structures.
All the basics are covered. You've got an in depth look at the design for the first pyramids and how they evolved under the obsessed Pharaoh Sneferu. There's discussion of the amazing fortresses along the border between Nubia and Egypt. The great tomb of Seti I is explored. The show ends with the construction of the enormous Abu Simbel temples and their narrow escape from destruction by creation of the Aswan dam in the 1960's. Oddly, many of the most famous structures are glossed over. There is no delving into the construction of the Great Pyramid at Giza, the Sphinx or the Tomb of Tutankhamen. They are mentioned briefly, but I get the feeling that the documentary wanted to focus on lesser known but equally amazing structures.
When the show ended, I was eager to see what was up next. After all, I did learn quite a bit, but was hardly an expert on ancient Egypt. Unfortunately, that's all you get. One nifty documentary later, and you're an instant expert. Who knew?
But don't fret studious viewers, here's a lovely copy of our home game. It's a little quiz that allows you to pick a multiple-choice answer using your DVD remote. Your score is tallied and there's an answer key included. Thankfully no scantron is needed. The insert pamphlet doubles as a study guide. It's a couple of pages of discussion questions, possible activities based off the documentary and a list of books and websites you can use for more information.
I'm not a teacher, but I can see some value in this DVD. The program is informative and has enough variety to keep most students interested. The study guide has some good ideas in it. But I think the most attractive element here is the price point. In it's Instant Expert form this program retails for $10 less than it does as Egypt: Engineering an Empire. This makes it a good value for anyone who doesn't already possess the show.
For those who just love ancient history and are looking for new documentary material. It's really just a triple dip. History has released this show by itself and as part of Engineering an Empire. If you haven't seen the show yet, this makes a good introduction, but I recommend history buffs spring for the complete series box set because they are all worth seeing and enjoying. One more caveat, this show is still not presented in anamorphic widescreen, no matter what incarnation it's in. I know this presentation will annoy some viewers to no end.
Hung jury. Teachers and history lovers who don't already have this in their
collection will find value here. Those looking for new material will find
nothing to interest them. The court appreciates the studio's intentions, but
warns them on continuous triple dipping.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: History Channel
• Interactive Quiz
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