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 Various (8 episodes, 2009)
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History's biggest battles brought to life like you've never seen them before.


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9 March 2009 (USA)  »

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Entertainment over Realism
2 April 2009 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

This show takes some of the well known conflicts of ancient civilizations and adds a modern flare to them. An obvious attempt to make history more appealing to the current generation of viewers, the focus here is on entertainment. Real historical figures are given a weapon in each hand with no shield and are seen wading through and besting countless foes from the opposing armies in usually single combat. The fight scenes are interspersed with expert historian commentators who have many interesting things to say about the particular conflict and its participants.

While I applaud the History Channel for attempting to make history more accessible and interesting to the modern viewer, much realism has to be sacrificed in the attempt. The depiction of combat here may be somewhat exciting, but to the more seasoned viewer like myself it is absurd and ironically a bit monotonous in its tight and predictable choreography. Enemies are usually dispatched with a flash of cartoon blood at the end, making it appear to be a comic strip more than a historic battle. The only view of the battle is at ground level - no bird's eye views of the developing battle here. Rough diagrams are shown of troop dispositions, but I expect more in this age of readily accessible computer simulations.

The accompanying commentary is excellent, and one of the best parts of the show. The commentators help to flesh out the rationale behind the conflict, goals of the commanders, and progress of the battles. They help to fill in the details that are lacking in the re-enactments.

Although I do enjoy the show, I cannot recommend it to the more serious historian. This show is for those who have only a marginal interest in history, and demand entertainment over a realistic depiction of battle. "Warrior Queen Boudicca" is one example of a History Channel program that has some man-to-man fighting but is supplemented by great bird's eye views of the battle, and both conducted in a more realistic manner. Perhaps the finest example of how to do this sort of show right is "Battlefied Britain" from a few years back, but it is not airing any longer to my knowledge, although it is available on DVD.


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