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Prehistoric Megastorms

History Channel // 2008 // 282 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Kent Dixon (Retired) // December 15th, 2008

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All Rise...

Judge Kent Dixon just realized why there ain't no sun up in the sky.

Editor's Note

Our review of The Prehistoric Collection, published May 30th, 2009, is also available.

The Charge

Early in our planet's history, scientists believe that severe weather and extreme conditions ravaged Earth not just once, but possibly multiple times.

Really bad stuff happening. Lots of scientists talking about stuff they think might very likely, or at least possibly, or in some way, shape, or form, could have caused the bad stuff…but we're really just guessing here. Welcome to Prehistoric Megastorms.

The Case

Prehistoric Megastorms provides a front row seat for several of the massive disasters that scientists believe may have occurred in our ancient past, including a gigantic tsunami and a terrifying comet storm. Re-created with the help of computer-generated imagery, viewers will see what these storms could have looked like and how they may have totally changed the face and population of our planet. When they occurred, these events may have wiped out a significant percentage of life on Earth, some may have been the direct cause of our Ice Age, and one extreme flooding event may have caused Great Britain to be cut off from the rest of Europe as it also formed the English Channel.

The set includes six 44-minute episodes and another "bonus episode," spread over two discs as follows:

Disc One
Volcanic Winter:
Scientists have predicted that if the human race ever engaged in a massive nuclear war, the resulting debris cloud would blot out all sunlight, plunging our planet into what has been termed a "nuclear winter." Could a prehistoric volcanic eruption possibly have created a similar result in our distant past?

Based on core samples taken from the bottom of the ocean that predict a 10 degree drop in ocean temperature between 67,500 to 75,500 years ago, scientists hypothesize Lake Toba in Sumatra, India was once the site of a super-volcano. When the volcano erupted, it would have resulted in an explosion that would have been felt and heard hundreds of miles away, creating a worldwide storm and a cloud of ash that blocked out the sun. Within weeks, Earth's inhabitants would have begun to notice the increasing drop in temperature and before long our planet would have plunged into an extended volcanic winter that nearly devastated all life on our planet.

Comet Storm:
Scientists hypothesize that 13,000 years ago a comet nearly three miles wide detonated above North America with a force larger than a simultaneous blast from all the nuclear weapons in history. The resulting wildfires would have raged across the continent, as comet debris continued to rain down from the sky. Unable to breathe, most humans and wildlife would suffocate on the spot and much of the remaining life would gradually starve to death. The fossil record shows evidence of this kind of event, but it was localized to the North American continent. Welcome to the Comet Storm.

British Superflood:
Was Great Britain always an island, or was it originally part of Europe, until a massive flood cut it from the continent, forming the English Channel at the same time?

Scientists hypothesize that approximately 450,000 years ago, a massive earthquake fractured a peninsula in northwestern Europe. The violent tremor created a massive surge of water the size of Texas, moving at incredible speeds and carrying huge chunks of rock and ice.

For more than a month, the flood ranged across the land mass to the Atlantic Ocean. By the time the water receded, the peninsula had become the island we now call Great Britain. Based on the geological similarities between the coasts of Calais, France and Dover, England, scientists are convinced that Great Britain was once directly connected to the European continent.

Asteroid Apocalypse (bonus episode):
Scientists hypothesize that about 65 million years ago, and at a million to one odds, a massive asteroid struck the Earth, bringing an end to the reign of the dinosaurs and eradicating 70 per cent of all life on Earth. What are the odds that might happen again? One hole in this dinosaur extinction theory is that even if an asteroid caused massive and devastating damage at its impact site, it would take a global event to have forced all of Earth's dinosaur species into extinction.

The remaining debris left over from the formation of the terrestrial planets, asteroids can be as large as 500 miles across and travel at 40,000 mph…to put that fantastic speed into perspective, if you were in a plane traveling at that speed, you could cross the continent from New York to Los Angeles in three or four minutes. Fortunately for us, and seemingly against all odds, large asteroids like the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs rarely hit the Earth. It seems our blind luck and the vigilance of astronomers around the globe may be the only lines of defense we have against a future asteroid strike that may happen at any time. In 1992, U.S. Congress approved a project designed to identify and catalog 90% of large near-Earth asteroids that may pose any kind of threat to Earth. As one scientist so eloquently states, there are three key factors in being able to deal with any large asteroids on a course for Earth: find them early, find them early, and find them early!

Disc Two
A severe form of hurricane, hypercanes can be as much as 20 miles high, puncturing into the stratosphere, and creating 500 mile an hour winds. When the asteroid that scientists predict caused the extinction of the dinosaurs hit the ocean near the Yucatan peninsula, the heat and steam that were produced may have caused the formation of a hypercane.

Some scientists believe that it may not have been the asteroid impact itself that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, but the severe weather that resulted from the impact. Although there is still no concrete evidence of the existence of one or more hypercanes during the ends of the Cretaceous period, scientists feel that as they learn more about hurricane behavior today, the better they can determine if an hypercane happened in our past, or if one may happen again in our future. Perhaps one of the biggest concerns would not be from the storm itself, but from the resulting damage to Earth's ozone layer, leaving our planet exposed to lethal solar radiation.

Mega Tsunami:
In 2004, a massive underwater earthquake off the coast of Indonesia's Sumatra Island measured an astounding 9.0 on the Richter scale and was the world's largest since 1964. Far more devastating than the earthquake itself, the resulting tsunami in the Indian Ocean devastated entire communities and resulted in a death toll of more than 200,000 people.

Italian scientists have been studying how the possible collapse of part of Mount Etna, a volcano located on the east coast of Sicily, could have created a megatsunami in 6,000 B.C. that devastated the prehistoric Mediterranean region. The powerful force of the colossal Etna landslide hitting the Mediterranean Sea, could have yielded waves as high as 164 feet…double the height of the 2004 Sumatra tsunami. Traveling several hundred miles an hour, the tsunami would have torn through Libya and Greece, reaching as far as the shores of the Middle East, more than 1,200 miles away, in as little as three hours.

Noah's Great Flood:
If you're at all familiar with the Old Testament, the story of Noah and the flood that engulfed the Earth will no doubt be familiar to you, and depending what your belief system is, you may see the story as either a fable or a gospel (sorry!) truth.

Some experts believe that 6,000 years ago, an area that is now part of the Black Sea was populated by a thriving early civilization until an ancient flood, 200 times more explosive than Niagara Falls, submerged a landmass twice the size of Ireland. This episode takes the stance that the Biblical account was merely a fable that could easily have been explained by this event. Sonar explorations of the bottom of the Black Sea seem to show evidence of ancient coastlines that have long since been submerged by a sudden massive influx of water.

Despite having taken science from my early school days right through university, I had never heard of some of the cataclysmic events that appear in this series. It was fascinating to learn not only what might have happened in our past to shape the Earth and its climate, landscape and living creatures, but also to hear scientists reflect on the potential risks and likelihood that we might see events of this scale in the future.

It's unfortunate that such fascinating content receives such a mediocre treatment in this release. The audio presentation is respectable, with dialogue anchored in the center channel and some good use of the lower and surround channels for atmospheric effects. The video presentation doesn't fare as well, as the image appears somewhat soft throughout, with some sections that are downright blurry…quite surprising for a relatively recent production that uses a fairly substantial amount of computer-generated effects in every episode.

Given the fact that each of these episodes originally aired on TV, viewers are subjected to pre-commercial break teasers and post-commercial recaps approximately every 10-15 minutes. So despite each episode's runtime coming in at around 44 minutes, we only get about 25 minutes or so of unique material in each episode. It's also abundantly clear that the events explored in each of these episodes are based on scientific hypotheses and not real concrete proof. That's not to say these events, or something similar, didn't actually occur, only that there is no indisputable evidence that these mega-storms and disasters really happened.

One curious thing I noticed was that although my review copy looked like a final retail release version of the set, for some reason the final artwork printed on the DVDs was mixed up…disc one had disc two's art on it and vice-versa. There's nothing particularly remarkable about this release aside from the subject matter; it comes in a run-of-the-mill two-DVD keep case, and there are no extra features of any kind.

A mixture of talking heads, CG recreations, and dramatic narration, I can certainly think of worse ways to spend your time than by watching Prehistoric Megastorms. The episodes start to get a bit redundant after a while as the formula of "this was really bad when it happened a long time ago, but what if it happens again now?" gets repeated over and over. If you're fascinated by history, geology, and the power or wonder of our planet, this collection will be an interesting journey. If you're not particularly interested in how Earth developed into the planet we live on today, then you'd be better off passing on this one.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 75

Perp Profile

Studio: History Channel
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 282 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Disaster
• Documentary
• Historical
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• Bonus episode


• IMDb
• Wikipedia: Mega Disasters
• Official site

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