Poor Judge Dylan Charles. He was excited at the prospect of reviewing Jurassic Park: The Series and wound up with College Archaeology 101.
Explore the past rebuilt in stunning detail.
Sometimes what's left of history just isn't enough. Those broken columns now on their sides, ancient temples with their paintings faded and cracked, it all lacks vibrancy and life. Lost Worlds aims to fix all that by trying to recreate those forgotten and ruined cities and places. Does it succeed or are the glories of the past forever lost in the dust?
Facts of the Case
Lost Worlds focuses on reconstructing (via "cutting edge technology" and computer models) ancient and lost worlds. Each episode focuses on a person (Vlad the Impaler a.k.a. Dracula) or civilization (the Minoans who may have been Plato's Atlanteans). The show generally focuses on architecture or civic planning. Expect to find out more about Vlad's castles than the man himself.
This set is broken into four discs with three episodes on each disc. The three episodes usually have a common theme to tie them all together. Disc two, for instance, deals with classical culture like ancient Athens and the construction antics of Ramses II. Disc Three focuses on more modern creations, like the designs of Hitler's pet architect Albert Speer.
Lost Worlds can be a revelatory experience. Seeing the Parthenon fully restored and in color gives at least a small idea of what the Athenians saw. Hell, I didn't even know the Parthenon used to have color until after I saw this show. This is Lost World's strong point, when those ancient places regain some of their vividness.
Lost Worlds takes a different path than most shows of this nature by focusing on the buildings more than on the culture or personalities of the time. It then uses the buildings as a launching off point to discuss other aspects of that period or civilization. In a few cases, such as in Dracula's episode, the personality is strong enough to almost overwhelm the detailed explanations of the fortifications employed at that time. Everything from the detailed workings of the Minoan plumbing to Mayan palaces are covered throughout the series.
This shift in focus to architecture is a more (pardon the pun) concrete view of history. Rather than the usual speculation on what Ramses might have eaten or a detailed look at whether or not William Wallace was bastard or hero, Lost Worlds shows us the world these people lived in. Towns, temples, cities, castles, forts, tombs; it's new, fresh way of presenting history to an audience that might be tired of biopics about our man Jesus and might want to know how the water system in Jerusalem was built.
Where it starts to lose some points is in the padding. At least a tenth of every episode is made up of that god-awful post-commercial recapping. "Let us explain, in excruciating detail, what happened right before the commercial break. While this would be bearable if there actually were commercials in place, on DVD it's almost insulting to have the narrator repeat something we just saw thirty seconds ago. It slows down the pace of the episode and makes it drag.
Then there's the narrator himself, who doesn't really add anything to the proceedings. He reads off his lines with the intonation of a newscaster giving a special report. "This just in, Ramses II built a temple in honor of himself. More at 11. Now here's Tom with the sports." I'm not expecting him to emote or anything, but just a little bit of chutzpah would be nice.
Lost Worlds also likes to show the same re-enactment footage over and over again. There's only so many times I need to see Plato scribbling furiously about Atlantis or watching someone stamp TOP SECRET on The Manhattan Project folder. It's repetitious and redundant and in a show that frequently touts its amazing computer graphics, I expect a little more fancy graphics and a little less old-guy-writing.
The discs themselves are devoid of almost any features. The only extra included is the pilot episode for the show, something I would have hoped they would include anyway and not as an extra. At least it's a good episode, though a bit rough around the edges, what with it being a pilot and all. The graphics they use aren't quite up to the usual standards, but everything else is up to snuff. The audio and video are very nice and it's all in glorious widescreen. But there's not even the usual behind-the-scenes featurette that's nothing more than a glorified commercial for the show.
I just read what I wrote and I think I might have come off overly harsh up there. But really it's because those flaws are disappointing. I really dug the concept and Lost Worlds has re-lit my interest in history. But all that extra padding to fill out the hour and a lackluster narrator makes it feel like we're watching the construction of the Parthenon in real time, in spite of all its clever computer tricks and fascinating information.
Lost Worlds is found guilty and sentenced to community service, where it will be shown to high school students taking world history.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: History Channel
• Pilot Episode: "Palenque"
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