Judge Sandra Dozier sings, "Up from the ground come a bubblin' crude...oil that is...black gold...ah, you know the rest."
Our reviews of Instant Expert: Ben Franklin (published September 25th, 2010), Instant Expert: Beowulf (published August 21st, 2010), Instant Expert: Egypt (published August 21st, 2010), and Instant Expert: The Mayflower (published October 9th, 2010) are also available.
History introduces Instant Expert, an exciting new line of titles offering on-the-spot knowledge to students and lifelong learners on a wide variety of topics.
If you've ever wondered exactly what crude oil is, and why we can't just synthesize more of the stuff, Instant Expert: The Story of Oil is the long-winded answer to your query. Originally broadcast as the documentary Crude in 2008, this 94 minute feature has been repackaged as part of the Instant Expert series.
I wasn't as pleased with this effort as I have been with other Instant Expert titles. When I think of a documentary, I think of a tight, well-paced march of information. Unfortunately, The Story of Oil got off to a very slow start with a clumsy introduction that tried to build suspense by meting out pearls of information, which it did not attempt to support for another 15 minutes. Since I had already forgotten where they were going, the narrative obliged by recapping all the previous information, and repetition was born.
Using a combination of computer animation showing life and environmental conditions during the Jurrasic period, historical images, and interviews with experts in the field, The Story of Oil first establishes what oil is, the specific environmental qualities required to produce it, how oil is used by modern man (underpinning practically all products we use), our waste of this natural non-reproducable resource, and the prospects for eventually running out. In some ways, we've heard about our abuse of oil for years, but this documentary dispassionately spells it out for us, and the scope of the problem left me wondering how we're going to solve it.
I found the middle segment fascinating. Once the pace picked up, there was a great deal of information offered up by former oil industry executives who have moved on to create sustainable energy companies of their own. The technical detail involved in the science of oil refining is broken down and presented in terms everyone can understand. However, I would have liked to see more focus on potential solutions to the problem of oil depletion; a subject only touched on briefly.
The video and audio quality are acceptable, but not remarkable. My one beef with the presentation centers on the source material; some of the computer animation and the lingering shots of water overexposed to look like oil caused quite a strain on the eyes. Otherwise, the transfer was watchable. The audio was clean, with just a hint of extra hiss in certain parts, probably source related. As with other Instant Expert releases, the only bonus features are an interactive quiz and a printed insert with discussion questions and internet resources.
The Story of Oil is Definitely worth a look. The lack of polish in the computer graphics and the pacing of the material should not be a deterrent. Although the documentary does not come full circle in highlighting solutions to the problem of worldwide oil consumption, it does go in-depth on how we got the oil in the first place, which makes it stand out from other oil documentaries, thus providing an excellent teaching/learning opportunity.
Side note: I had no luck locating a copy of the original Crude documentary, which makes purchasing this version all the more attractive.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: History Channel
• Interactive Quiz
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