Engineering an Empire: Season 1, Episode 10

Napoleon: Steel Monster (18 Dec. 2006)

TV Episode  -  Documentary | History
7.6
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Title: Napoleon: Steel Monster (18 Dec 2006)

Napoleon: Steel Monster (18 Dec 2006) on IMDb 7.6/10

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Cast

Episode credited cast:
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Himself - Host
Michael Carroll ...
Narrator
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
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Stone Mason / French Soldier
Marc Charles Cancassi ...
French soldier / peasant
John Hill ...
...
Mitchell Speert ...
Stone Mason / French Soldier
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18 December 2006 (USA)  »

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La Belle France.
22 March 2010 | by (Deming, New Mexico) – See all my reviews

This episode focuses on more or less recent French history and covers several monument and one infrastructural achievement.

Notre Dame cathedral is built over the course of two hundred years or so, building ever upward, and dependent on newly invented flying buttresses. It is ANYTHING but short and squat like the Romanesque cathedrals that preceded it. This quest for height became all the rage until finally, somewhere in France as I recall, they went too far and the whole shebang collapsed around their heads and was abandoned. I mean, there can be too much of a good thing.

With each achievement we get a minute or two of an animated blue diagram. They're useful but someone, an editor, wasn't paying attention. They often come and go too quickly for us to grasp their significance. And on top of that these little white arrows chase each other across the screen in a bewildering manner unrelated to what we're hearing from the narrator.

One of these diagrams is pretty cute, though. It answers the question: How in hell did they lift those big stones up to the tops of the walls. The animated diagram shows us a man in a human-sized hamster cage running, running, running, while behind him a rope lifts a monster rock. Don't laugh. We may be back to that when we have double our current population and no oil at all left.

Next monument: the canal du midi, which permits navigation through the countryside from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean without having to go around the Iberian peninsula.

Next monument: the Arch of Triumph, Napoleon's monument to himself. Not so interesting. Did I skip Louis XIV's Palace of Versailles? Well, the program kind of skims over it anyway. Nothing especially innovative about it. It was just big and, well, rococo. One could hold a great party in it though -- that Hall of Mirrors is a wonder to behold. It's a hallway that seems half a mile long, paneled with mirrors, and featuring drapes and figurines and cartouches and whatnot. I'm not sure it would be such a great idea to bring a chemically altered brain to the place.

Next and last monument: The Eiffel Tower. This is one of the more involving achievements, built quickly, around 1886, to commemorate the French Revolution and its unholy consequences. The design really is advanced. The struts were aerodynamic, like airfoils in reverse, to keep the monstrous tower stable in a high wind. Its building introduced the use of caissons, airtight underground containers for workmen, that would later be used in New York's subway system. And it is, admittedly, an unusual experience to take an elevator upward at a slant that then changes its angle in mid-course. Still, for all that, it's an ugly sucker.

You can't help wonder who dreams up the titles for the episodes in this delightful and informative series. "Napoleon: Steel Monster." It sounds like something you'd see in a drive-in movie in 1970, a cheap film about a Martian Golem built of metal, come to earth to banish the concept of beef Wellington from the human mind.


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