Friday, April 5, 2013

History of the World in Two Hours 2D / 3D Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
Did you know that 1% of the white noise you see on your television is actually background radiation from the Big Bang? From the formation of the earth and the emergence of life, to the advance of man and the growth of civilization, the CGI-driven special History of the World in Two Hours 3D offers viewers a rapid-fire view of 14 billion years of history – an epic story that reveals surprising connections to our daily lives.  Featuring incredible graphics specially created for 3D, this 3D blu-ray – the latest release in A+E Networks Home Entertainment’s best-selling 3D line-up — will make a nice addition to the collection of any fan of history and science.

Film  (3 out of 5 stars)

Since I’m a fan of most of the History Channel’s offerings, I eagerly agreed to review this release solely based on the title alone.  I was curious how they would condense billions of years into a two hour program which seemed to be a fairly impossible task.  Now having seen it, I can tell you that they do indeed compress time from the Big Bang that created the universe all the way up to today but to do so, they’ve sacrificed events, detail, and even worse, their ability to impart history in a digestible fashion.  This speed that this program has to maintain to justify their title (even though without commercials it’s about an hour and a half) means that the pace is unrelenting and there’s no chance for viewers to absorb what they’re watching or for the program to devote more than a token look at events that could have miniseries devoted to them. The end result is an extremely fast moving history lesson that contains some good info but one that isn’t worried about comprehension.
To accomplish this insane pace, the show focuses on how one event leads into the next, kind of like an ongoing chain reaction which is a smart way to structure the series.  We learn about the forces of cause and effect that have changed history which could have gone either way.  From the unique way the Big Bang created planets, to the Earth getting struck hard enough to create a moon and change it’s axis to allow for seasons, or how the extinction of the dinosaurs paved the way for mankind to become the dominant species on the planet, or even how grass and seeds saved us for almost certain doom, they are all interconnected and without one of them happening it all could have ended differently.  It’s fascinating to see this material in this manner, but it’s also frustrating because a lot of what I found interesting is addressed by a single sentence before moving on to the next thing.
One of the scientists makes a comment on how the forefathers of mankind were the losers in our fight with the dinosaurs for species supremacy.  He went on to say that if the asteroid hadn’t struck the Earth and wiped out any creature heavier than fifty pounds, humans wouldn’t have survived to become the dominant species.  I found that to be very interesting because I had never heard that dinosaurs had won the evolutionary war and I wanted to hear more, but it’s just skipped over to move on to the next subject which pretty much exemplifies the show.  There’s good information but the lightning fast speed doesn’t allow for any further detail or for any of this information to resonate with the viewer.  It would have been better to focus on the material it’s covering than on the pace that it set for itself.

Video  (3 out of 5 stars) 

2D Video  (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)             3D Video (3 out of 5 stars) 
This 1080p (1.66:1) transfer doesn’t meet the usual high standards of the other History Channel releases.  This single disc contains both the 2D and the 3D versions of the show and neither one looks as good as it should.  The 2D version looks compressed and there’s digital noise, banding, and aliasing problems here as well.  The CGI sequences fare the best as they look detailed and the colors are vivid, but the live action interview segments look soft and less refined.  Colors as a whole look fairly good and the black levels are solid and deep.  Flesh tones are decent and natural looking during the interview segments.  The 3D version suffers from the same issues that the 2D has, but it also has it’s own additional problems.  While the 3D looks pretty good during the CGI sequences, it pretty much disappears whenever there’s a live action component.  There’s also some ghosting as well which doesn’t help matters much.

Audio (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

A&E’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix fares better than the video, but that’s not saying much.  The front channels offers clear and clean dialogue that’s easy to understand while the rear channels provide the sound effects and ambiance along with the music.  The rear channels make their presence known infrequently, but when they do come to life, it sounds pretty good.  Even though this doesn’t meet the usual standards of their other releases, this mix is pretty decent, especially for a science show.

Extras  (0 out of 5 stars)

There are no extras on this disc which is going to affect the final score.

Summary (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

With shows like “The Universe”, the History Channel has proven that it can cover this type of material in an intelligent way and at a pace that allows viewers to actually absorb the information being shown to them. While I admire this effort to offer billions of years of history in a short presentation for casual viewers, this isn’t the kind of show that the countdown format is suited for, an neither is the accelerated pace.  If you’d like to learn about the universe, I’d recommend their other show “The Universe”, which does an excellent job of covering the same ground in a more relaxed fashion.  This has a lot of good info, but it’s hard to recommend it due to the pace and to the lack of effort that went into the disc’s audio/visual presentation and the absence of extras.
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