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Case Number 17144: Small Claims Court

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The Terry Jones Collection

MicroCinema // 1998 // 300 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Ryan (Retired) // August 29th, 2009

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All Rise...

The Hidden History of Judge Dave Ryan would barely fill a pamphlet, let alone a Terry Jones documentary.

The Charge

And now for something truly completely different…

The Case

You might think—as I did at first—that The Terry Jones Collection is probably a boxed set of Jones' very entertaining Medieval Lives and Barbarians series, given that these are Jones' most recent and most lauded documentary series. You would, however, be wrong. Alas.

But fear not—this is still a collection of Terry Jones documentaries; they're just a bit older. This two-disc set actually contains four Jones documentaries: Ancient Inventions, a three-part BBC series from 1998 (which aired on the Discovery Channel in the US), and three "History" documentaries from 2002-3: The Surprising History of Sex and Love, The Hidden History of Egypt, and The Hidden History of Rome. Even though these docs are a little old, the historical record hasn't changed much since then, so they're not made up of stale info.

You don't watch these documentaries for their academic rigor or their exhaustive research, though. You watch them to enjoy Jones' witty take on the subject matter. Who would have guessed that Terry Jones, the guy who spent years in drag playing a cockney harridan on Monty Python's Flying Circus, would turn out to be one of the best documentary hosts in the business? This is a field where you expect your hosts to be tweedy and distinguished—you know, like the Attenboroughs. Well, Jones is plenty distinguished (he's clearly an intelligent fellow), but is anything but tweedy. He keeps the narrative light, entertaining, and funny through all six of these hours. He approaches the subjects—and the experts therein—with a healthy dose of curiosity, and asks the types of questions that the average person would probably ask. Therefore, it's easy for an average viewer to relate to him and to the subject matter, making for an excellent informational experience. There is a slight bit of overlap in content here—especially between the "Sex and Love" episode of Ancient Inventions and The Surprising History of Sex and Love, but it doesn't feel like recycled material. For the most part, these documentaries are collections of interesting facts rather than historical narratives, which keeps them from getting too heavy. But that isn't to say they're without any informational value—they are actually quite interesting.

The video and sound quality are typical for late-'90s-era material. The Ancient Inventions episodes look a bit old; picture quality is a bit on the grainy side. The History episodes, which are newer, look better. All are presented in anamorphic widescreen. Sound is provided in the broadcast stereo mix. There are no extras included.

Terry Jones has definitely put a unique spin on the historical documentary in the past decade. While Medieval Lives and Barbarians are still the best of his work, these somewhat-hard-to-find (unless you spot one of their airings on Discovery) documentaries are also quality additions to his canon. They are well worth a look for fans of Jones' historical adventures.

The Verdict

This is a dead parrot. Er…I mean, not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 85

Perp Profile

Studio: MicroCinema
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Documentary
• Historical
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• None


• IMDb: Ancient Inventions

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