A&E and History have combined for some of the best educational as well as entertaining programs over the years. Many of those shows have taken close looks at the various civilizations and empires throughout world history. Most of these shows take a look at these civilizations from the inside outward. We’re not talking the litany of facts and accomplishments that we’ve seen on hundreds of documentaries as well as our old high school textbooks. These programs look at the day-to-day life of these cultures and peoples. The accomplishments here are the ones that affected everyday life within these empires. These are the kinds of things we tend to take for granted in our modern lives. Things like sanitation, architecture, and basic metro services didn’t just appear out of nowhere. These shows give us a rare look into the evolution of the things that have identified human evolution over the millennia. It’s said that we are separated from animals by our ability to shape and change our environment. With this massive 14 disc set, you can explore the ways that we have shaped our planet in our quest for civilization.
The disc includes the following series and episodes:
Engineering An Empire:
Greece, The Aztecs, Carthage, China, Russia, Britain, The Persians, Mayans, Napoleon, The Byzantines, Da Vinci’s World, Rome, and Egypt. The last two are huge mini-series episodes taking a full disc each.
In each of these episodes, Peter Weller hosts an exploration of the technological and architectural achievements of these various empires. The shows take you to the original locations where you’ll witness for yourself the remains of these structures. Re-enactments take us on a journey to the glory days of these empires. It all combines to give you a rather detailed look at empires we all have heard about, but not quite like this.
Rome – The Rise And Fall Of An Empire:
This 10-hour feature is spread over 4 discs. The show follows the Roman Empire from its small village origins to become the most influential political structure in human history.
Again, there are re-enactments and journeys to the very locations where these historically significant moments occurred.
The feature examines the battle technology of the Roman Empire and takes us into some of the bloodiest battles and wars in human history. The episodes look at the moral and physical corruption and complacency that led to the fall of the great empire. The world paid a huge price when Rome fell. We entered into nearly a thousand years of stalled human evolution. Just imagine where we’d be, if the progress begun in Rome had been allowed to continue uninterrupted.
Ancients Behaving Badly:
Ancients Behaving Badly is a documentary series on the History Channel that chooses an infamous leader from ancient history and goes into great detail about their rule. Let’s take for example, Caligula, the first leader presented and a fairly easy target to spend time on. Caligula, the third Roman emperor, who despite living only a shade under four years in power, broke all the rules and was famous for debauchery and murder on the grandest scale.
The documentary gives a bit of history and often highlights various scenes with historical accounts by famous historians, archaeologists, and in some cases medical doctors who specialize in simulation of important deaths to reveal new and fascinating clues. There is also a great deal of animation present to supplement various scenarios that happened during this reign. At the end of the production, we are treated to a graph where the X axis rates them from “Goal Driven Killer” to “Psychopathic Murderer” while the Y axis focuses on a particular characteristic like Obsessiveness.
After Rome fell, the world fell into nearly a thousand years of barbarianism. This show features some of the most infamous of these civilizations. From the origin of the Huns to the Goths, Vikings, and Mongols, the show explores the complete descent into anarchy where brute force, the law of the jungle, was the only rule of law.
All of these shows are presented in their original broadcast aspect ratios. Some of it is full-frame while much of it is 1.78:1. Even the widescreen stuff is often non-anamorphic. There appears to be a lot of compression artifact here. It varies from show to show and even episode to episode. You won’t find a ton of consistency here. It measures up to most of our broadcast reception potential at least. Some of the CG supplemental material looks blurred and not quite in step with the rest of the episodes. The interview clips look about the best. Think of this strictly in documentary lines, and you won’t be disappointed in the image presentation.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 is not really anything to write home about. You can hear everything, and the dialog works just fine.
The features are spread out over the 14 disc collection. Most of the material comes from previous DVD releases of the individual shows. Here’s a breakdown of what you’ll get:
Engineering An Empire – Behind The Scenes: (18:50) Peter Weller travels to the many locations where this particular show was created. Segments include talking to experts about Gothic architecture, Churchill’s cigars, Carthage boat repair docks, cathedral construction in Istanbul, the Great Wall Of China, Kremlin fortress towers, and ancient history lessons for young children.
History In The Making – Rome: (20:59) This is a promo preview piece that looks at not only this show but the making of HBO’s Rome. The cast and crews of both shows marvel at the Roman locations.
An Inside Look At Egypt: (10:46) Peter Weller takes us on a tour of some of the engineering feats of ancient Egypt.
From The Director’s Chair: (13:19) Director Chris Cassel talks about getting to work in Egypt.
Everything You Wanted To Know About Egypt: (11:16) Experts answer trivia questions about Egypt.
Behind The Shield: (20:42) Another sneak-peak promo piece. This time you get a look at the making of The Barbarian episodes.
Biography – Genghis Khan: (45:15) Jack Perkins hosts this Biography episode on the barbarian leader.
Consider this set to be a world history according to the History Channel. It would be one of those great gift sets to give to the history buff on your Christmas list. It might not be the kind of thing you pick up for yourself. It’s a very comprehensive set with plenty of excellent moments. Is it all top-notch? Of course not. I can’t say I was impressed with the Ancients Behaving Badly sections. But the pieces on Rome and Egypt are particularly interesting. I just can’t get enough of either civilization. “They were powerful engines for change.”