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Wising Up with Athena

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Sure it’s fun to turn your brain off every so often in order to truly appreciate the intellectual insufficiency that’s present in, say, any Michael Bay film. Ultimately, though, it’s unrewarding for your own cerebral capacity — to say nothing of the stain movies like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen leave on your soul. It’s time to wise up, kids — and there’s no better choice to do that with than this assortment of mixed documentaries and education programs brought to you by the letter A, the number 5 and Acorn Media’s exclusive “smart” label, Athena Learning.

Enjoy.

· Art of the Western World (1989)

The Short Version: Gee, look at all the purty pictures!

The Slightly-Elongated Version: Originally aired in the States as a nine-part PBS documentary, Art of the Western Worldgives us a chance to take a community college course on the history of art in the West without the costly tuition fees. Our “professor” for this case — the world-famous Michael Wood — is a noted authority on the subject of art, and once you get a look at his late ‘80s sense of fashion here, he’ll seem even more like a college teacher. From paintings to sculptures and all the various bits in-between, Wood takes viewers on a fascinating 2,500-year journey that should be required viewing for anyone interested in the subject. The 3-disc set includes a 20-page viewer’s guide as well as bios and trivia.

· The Battle for Marjah (2010)

The Short Version: War is Hell. Except when it’s in HD, of course: then it’s really cool.

The Slightly-Elongated Version: Ben Anderson and Anthony Wonke’s acclaimed HBO documentary about the fight for control of the Southern Afghanistan town of Marjah by US Marines comes to Blu-ray courtesy Athena Learning — and the timing couldn’t be any better. Bringing us a factual, in-your-face view of what day-to-day life is like on the battlefield, award-winning journalist Anderson’s account of the “War on Terror” will probably be too left-wing for the more conservative viewers, but anyone interested in modern warfare and its affect on its soldiers the society surrounding it will want to have a look at it — no matter what side of the political fence they’re on. The title is also available on Standard-Def DVD, and there are a few text-only bonuses as well as a viewer’s guide insert.

· Bill Moyers: God and Politics (1987)

The Short Version: Church, State, whatever.

The Slightly-Elongated Version: First seen on PBS amid the heyday of both the Reagan and (H.W.) Bush Administrations, Bill Moyers’ series from 1987 takes a look on the merging of Church and State during the ‘80s (you know, when easily-sobbing and barely-sober evangelists invaded the airwaves?). The series is shown into three-parts: “The Kingdom Divided,” “The Battle for the Bible,” and “On Earth as It Is in Heaven.” What’s scary is that just about everything that Mr. Bill touches upon here is politically relevant today. Athena even throws in a bonus disc that features “Is God Green?” — an episode from the more-recent Moyers On America series; several segments from NOW with Bill Moyers; some text-only bios and a 12-page booklet.

· The Making of the President: The 1960s (1963-1969)

The Short Version: A retro look at the Presidential elections of the ‘60s.

The Slightly-Elongated Version: Inspired by the best-selling books of author Theodore H. White, The Making of the President: The 1960s presents three captivating pieces of history that cover the great Presidential elections of that decade that would forever change America as well as the rest of the world: the John F. Kennedy/Hubert H. Humphrey debate from 1960, the Lyndon Johnson/Barry Goldwater debate of ‘64 and the eventual election of the infamous Richard M. Nixon. While the quality here is pretty bad (most of this is comprised from grainy newsreels and early color television footage), this is an impressive — and above all, edifying set. Special features in the way of some text notes, a JFK tribute from ‘64 and a featurette on Johnson’s days in office.

· Weapons Races: The History of Modern Warfare (2006)

The Short Version: “There goes Gun, speeding towards the finish line, followed in second by Knife…” (weapons races — get it?)

The Slightly-Elongated Version: For those of you who can’t get enough of the wonderful world of combat, here’s an eight-part series that dives into the development and growth of the various kinds of weaponry that are used today. Each fifty-minute episode starts out with a look at early artillery and moves on up to our contemporary equipment: jet fighters, battle tanks, radar/stealth, nuclear bombs and subs, strategic bomber/ballistic missiles, aircraft carriers — it’s all here (complete with interviews from historians and specialists), housed on three-discs of full-frame fun. The set includes some text-only bios on several weapons creators.

· Genius of Britain: The Scientists Who Changed the World (2010)

The Short Version: No, it’s not the original title of the song by the Tom Tom Club.

The Slightly-Elongated Version: For those of you who refuse to believe Britain has actual smart people as opposed to a bunch of smart-asses, here’s proof. Made by British TV’s Channel 4, this five-part series begins with the “Big Five” (Robert Boyle, Robert Hooke, Christopher Wren, Edmund Halley and Isaac Newton), moves onto the likes of Charles Darwin and Albert Russell Wallace, and concludes with modern brainiacs like James Dyson, Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking. A special bonus here is a 90-minute feature entitled Stephen Hawking and the Theory of Everything, wherein the respected intellect shows us how he can hold his own even without the use of his arms.

OK, so I admit that that last joke was a cheap shot. But I needed some way of wrapping this article up, didn’t I?

Happy viewing, kids!

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About Luigi Bastardo

Luigi Bastardo is the disgruntled alter-ego of a thirtysomething lad from Northern California who has watched so many weird movies since the tender age of 3 that a conventional life is out of the question. He currently lives in Chico, CA with four cats named Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Margaret. Seriously.
  • Greg Barbrick

    Athena put out some truly quality DVDs – I was especially impressed by The Making of the President set.