Normally, these BBC documentary series beckon you to watch them by their intriguing title alone. You have to admit, 37 Uses For A Dead Sheep carries with it a certain amount of gusto. As does Dr. Goebbels Speaks. And then there’s the recent BBC documentary, How The Earth Changed History, which will surely win the prestigious “Well, Duh!” Award for the most inanely-titled documentary ever.
But that isn’t to say it’s a bad series. In fact, it’s rather engrossing at times — especially if you’re watching the two-Disc set of How The Earth Changed History in High Def. But more on that later.
The five-part series, hosted by Scottish geologist Iain Stewart, begins with a journey into the four elements that make up our planet: “Water,” “Deep Earth,” (these two are presented in reverse order on this home video release, incidentally), “Wind,” and “Fire.”
In “Water,” Stewart (who, in addition to being a geologist, is also a professor at the University of Plymouth) explores the fascinating footnote of human history, wherein man initially had to follow water in order to survive — but later learned to divert the element in order to live wherever he damn well pleased. Next, in “Deep Earth,” we tackle man’s uncanny ability to set up civilizations near fault lines in order to get all the minerals they need. We also get a look at several fascinating spots within the planet — such as the larger-than-life Naica crystal caves in Mexico.
“Wind.” Had it not been for this element, many lands may not have been discovered (let’s face it: how far can you get on the water without it, anyhoo?). Wind has also been attributed to many memorable (and not-so-memorable) speeches in the history of world leaders. Sadly, though, host Stewart really doesn’t delve into the latter. “Fire,” on the other hand, has our host enduring a number of dangerous stunts in order to awe you, such as taking a bath in oil and taking a brisk stroll through fire (with a safety suit, of course).
The fifth and final episode, “Human Planet,” dives into what affect mankind has had on the planet and said elements.
For the most part, How The Earth Changed History comes off as relatively simple entertainment. There are a lot of moments that will make you go, “Huh, I didn’t know that.” There are also a lot of moments that will make you raise an eyebrow (where applicable) and question whether or not Prof. Stewart and his writing staff were pulling factoids out of their arses or not.
But, as far as entertainment goes, How The Earth Changed History still outranks So You Think You Can Dance? any ol’ day.
On Blu-ray, BBC Worldwide’s presentation of How The Earth Changed History (via Warner Home Video) manages to make you feel as if you’ve been magically transported via the wonderful world of television to remote sections of the globe that you would probably never visit otherwise. While the 1080i/AVC transfer has a number of less-than-stellar moments about it, there are some segments that are simply very grainy or soft. This could probably be attributed to the use of multiple cameras (maybe one of them wasn’t in proper working order?). The remainder of the series, however, presents some very beautiful and lush images; boasting vibrant colors and some very strong detail.
On the audio side of the disc, How The Earth Changed History comes with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English surround track that — as one might expect in a documentary series — reserves a lot of information for the front speakers (leave room for the narrator, right?). Fortunately, however, said audio track manages to impress via a number of surround sounds (from the subtle to the outright obvious) and delivers a laudable experience overall.
The most disappointing aspect of How The Earth Changed History is its assortment of special features. Presented in Standard Definition only, Disc 2 offers nothing more than a handful of brief featurettes. Consisting of little more than idle musings about the production of the series, “The Crystal Caves,” “Walking Through Fire,” and “Paragliding” only hands us about twenty minutes of material — most of which has an arid quality about it.
Does How The Earth Changed History get a recommendation from me? Yeah, sure…but only to some of you. This isn’t the documentary to end all documentaries after. It isn’t even close (hell, the title alone should clue you in on that). But it is an entertaining-enough way to kill five hours of your time.
The rest of you may want to stick with Planet Earth instead.