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Intollerable background music
I had to give up after five minutes. Not only was the background music terribly annoying it is so loud I can't hear the narration. So many educational videos with the problem.
Great Canadian Rivers (2001)
Sit Back, Relax, Learn, Plan Your VIsit
Great Canadian Rivers is a relaxing visit to the Canadian wilderness. Soothing narration, serene music and breathtaking scenery make it a perfect getaway for type B personalities and you type A's who need a respite.
Considering the relaxing pace of the narrative I'm amazed by the amount of information provided which I noted in my summary. It's a very tight script with concise narrations but it never feels like boilerplate. The story of each river has it's own personality. Anecdotes, which are occasionally drole, add to the personality as do the sound bites by locals which I'm pleased to say grow longer as the series progresses.
La planète des Géants (2017)
Social Behavior of Whales
This series is exceptionally photographed with extensive footage of various types of whale behavior. It focuses on the social structure and behavior of several cetacean species. Still, I was initially disappointed because the first episode contains relatively little information other than whales congrgate in small group and appreciate physical contact. The second and third episdoes made up for this deficiency with surprising stories of ways cetaceans communicate and train their young.
Empire Builders (2018)
A Cursory Traveloge
I must confess I only made it through 20 minutes of the episode about the Spanish Empire when I decided this series isn't for me. I expected a program entitled "Empire Builders" to describe the formation and expansion of enpires from a political/historical perspective. But what I experienced is basically a travelogue. If you are interested in a list of the priemier attractions in Spain this may be the show for you. But the episode doesn't dwell for more that a minute or two on each site so you will, no doubt, want to know more. For hitory buffs an historical time is provided but it is very concise with little infromation on crucial events.
Forced March (2018)
I recently watched the 1992 series 'Unsolved Mysteries of World War II". That series struggled with how to explain questions like; Why did the Nazis allow British troops to excape at Dunkirk? Why didn't the Nazis invade Great Britian? How did the Nazis manage to invade France through Arden Forest? 'Forced March' touches on these topics for just a few seconds but with such insight that I was left thinking, "What's the Mystery. It's obvious."
But this program is really about Nazi drug use in World War Two. My comment about is to highlight the clarity of understanding presented in this program. It tries very had to overcome the preconceptions a modern viewer may have about drug use. The prevailing attitudes, physiological understanding and, indeed, the stakes were much different then. But there are lessons we can take away that are still valid today. For example, if the need is great enough heavy drug use for a short time may be worth the risk. But extended use will likely result in failure.
I found this documentary to be inovative in that there is no (voice over) narrator script. Instead, the story is told entirely by experts presenting their ideas and understanding in extended conversations. I found this more engaging than the use of experts providing sound bites as has been popular for the past thirty years or so.
Research Without Much Science
While I enjoyed this program it's didn't offer mush in the way of science. The program follows the paleontologists who are uncovering and filling museums with fossils of ancient extint mega fauna in Nebraska. It explains in some detail how Nebraska became the bone mine for extinct mammals and the changing climate and geology of the area. But little is said of what was learned from this treasure tove of fossils. There is a brief mention about the evolution of horses, the migration of elephants to North America, and the origination of several mammalian famiies such as camels in North America. Other than that it all about fossil hunting.
Secrets of Christianity (2011)
Keep and Open Mind but Look For the Truth
Simcha challenges many Christian traditions in this series. But I don't see him challenging any Christian theology, the Word in the Scriptures. Rather he looks at Christian traditions to try to determine where they came from; whether from Scripture or outside sources. I have heard some of these questions before so I'm not sure is Simcha is offering anything new or just compiling these ideas in a single source.
Here are some examples. (1) We arbitrarily celebrate the birth of Jesus on Christmas which was chosen because it is the birth day of the pagan sun god Mithras; episode 5 'Selling Christianity' (2) Jesus is said to have walked on water on the Sea of Galilee. But the Sae of Galilee is not named in the Gospels. Did it occur elsewhere, episode 4 'The Lost Voyage of Jesus'. (3) Simon of Perea lead a massive Jewish rebellion shortly after Jesus's birth in response to Herod's mass murder of Jewish children. His follower's regarded him as a Messiah, a role he privately confirmed. Simcha looks at whether he was misguided or whether a dual Messiah concept is consistant with Scripture; episode 2 'The Messiah Before Jesus.
I think Simcha's goal in this series is essentially to purify Christian tradition taking a fresh look at what is solidly founded on Scripture and what as crept in over the centuries. I personally believe that much has also been lost over the centuries and that the message of Jesus is much richer than we know. In other words, I think Christianity has been simplified, or dumbed down, to make it easier for the masses and new converts to understand. Simcha's narratives support this opinion. I espcially like the episode "The Lost Voyage of Jesus" because a simple question of 'where it happened' leads to a much more powerful interpretation of the life of Jesus.
Knowing the truth, we may not change how we worship God. Chistmas is an essence an arbitrary choice for Jesus's birthday that let's us remeber the events in his life over the course of a year. But shouldn't faith be founded on truth.
Just the Facts, If There are Any to Be Found
"Unsolved Mysteries of World War II" is in the style of an extended news reel. It consists entierly of narrated archival footage and photographs. No animation or expert/on-the-scene interviews that have became a standard part of historical documentaries since the release of this series are included. Nevertheless it is a fast-paced, information-rich and engaging series.
As the title suggests the series focuses on strange behavior of Nazi personalities that still puzzle historians. The Nazi propensity for secrecy surly helped create these enigmas. Each episode provides the relavent history leading up ot the event in question, explains what is known about it and describes the lingering questions. In some episodes there is a bit of speculation about the reason for the Nazis' behavor.
Unfortunately, following the fall of the Soviet Union and the declassification of intelligence reports from the era have brought to light a good deal more infromation that sheads light on many of the topics featured leaving the series rather dated. "Sworn to Secrecy: Secrets of War" is a good alternative series providing extensive, updated information on many of the topcis reviewd in this series.
You can't control war
This film initially give Ishiwara the blame for World War Two then gradually alters it's position to point out that events did not proceed as he intended and places the blame for the war getting out of hand and the subsequent attrocities on others' shoulders. In other words, Ishiwara lost control of the conflict and the chaos he deliberately started. I guess there is a lesson in that; you can't control chaos.
The film is fast paced and very infromation rich. If is principally factual but it does lay the responsibility for the the events and attrocities on specific individuals.
Another reviewer suggested the English narration is speach synthesis. I found it a bit mechanical but I think it's human. If it is a synthetic voice it is superb for it's time.
I found the entire storyline of this film appalling. It describes rampant deceit to further individuals' goals regardless of the harm to others that eventually number in the tens of millions. It also contains archival film of combat, devastation and the dead and desperate that are difficult to watch.
For anyone who intends to pass judgement on the participants in World War Two this is part of the history you need to be familiar with. This film presents from the Allies perspective so you should also examine the Axis perspective though it may be difficult to find an honest account since the Axis story if founded predominatly on deception.
I Think Stress Was Hitler's Biggest Medical Issue
I'm a chemist, not a doctor or pharmacist, but I've paid close attention to medical and drug issues over the years. And I question this program's premis that Morrell is responsibile of Hilter's health issues and that his treatments were unorthodox.
I think many of the treatments were innacuous. For example, German's at the time were very health concious so vitamin injects don't strike me has stange. They probably didn't help but would hurt unless given in very high doses. Leaches though considered creepy now were a common though often incorrectly uses treatment in the past. There are some rare conditions, e,g, Polycythemia, it would have been suitable for. Today in 2021, treatment of digestive issues with bacteria is in vogue though unknown in 1992 when this film was made. Hormone treatments have been in and out of favor since World War Two. It sounds like the secret ingredients mentioned were norcotic in nature since they caused euphoria. I can't imagine any of the treatments mentioned causing arteriosclerosis or Parkinson's disease.
That leaves me with a man who had huge responsibilities. He was fighting multiple enemies and loosing. He was increasingly challended by his subordinates. He had endured multiple attempts to assassinate him. Perhaps he felt guilty for ordering the murder of friends and the countless other Holocaust victims. Thankfully for him he did take a good deal of time to rest and relax. But the stress of a job like that must have been extraordinary. And we know know that stress is very unhealthy. Morrell's stimulants and norcotics may have been necessary just to Hitler on his feel. Though I heard nothing to indicate Morrell treated Hitler for stress.
The First Global Traders
I couldn't help but feel awe in the seafarers described in this program. The opening of the video, as well as the conclusion, seemed a bit trite to me as it tries to project motivations onto these people that I don't think are supported by any evidence. This was unnecessary as that facts stand on there own to demonstrate the fantastic occomplishments of these people. The progarm is essentially historical though not entirely linear. Rather it looks at the differenet types of eveidence, e.g. Geological, archelogical, genetic and others, one by one. The difference types of evidence tend to aply to certain time periods. The program provides some detail about the design and contraction methods ot the Malayo-Polynesian ships though I would have like to see a bit more. But the ommission that really disappointed me is the lack of information about how these people navigated the massive Pacific Ocean without instruments. I actually learned more about that from Michner's Hawaii. A linger question in my mind is having cross the world from Madacascar to Easter Island, why not continue to Africa and South America. They seem like awfully big targets to mee.
The Mystery of the Last Gigant
This story of two ME 323 Gigants shot down near La Maddelena is a well told and compeling. It follows the search for the aircraft wreckage treating it as a mystery complete with a bit of suspense and subtle plot twists.
The program also relates the historical impact of these gigantic aircraft. That they weren't just another of Hilter's bigger bigger fantasies but addressed a critical but unantiicipated need in the Nazi war effort.
The program goes further to express via interviews what the search means to the families of the lost soldiers, the residents of La Maddelenea and the searchers themselves.
I watched an English version on Amazon Prime that provided excellent quality voice over translation of the intiews and narration. It is titled "Hitler's Mega Plane".
Planet Egypt (2011)
The Anthropology of Ancient Egypt
If you are interested in pyramids you picked the wrong series. This program is about Egyptian culture, what they believed, how they thought and how they lived. It delves in detail into four points in Egyptian history:
- The unification of Egypt under Narmer to create the First Dynasty,
- The formation of the New Kingdom and the reign of Thutmose III,
- Amenhotep III's and Akhenaten's attempt to supress the Amun-Ra cult.
- Ramses II's building projects including the only know tomb for a pharoah's offspring.
The program employs very well all the aspects of the science documentatry art; detailed narration, extensive reenactments, visits to archeological sites including realistic animation of their original apperance and explanations by the egyptologists responsible of the discoveries and theories presentented. But all the stories, explanations and artifacts throughout are used to focus directly on the underlying subject of the series, the anthropology of ancient Egypt.
Birth of Planet Earth (2019)
Intro to Solar System History
I will confess up front that I was turned off by this film right from the start so I only scanned it for content. From my quick review I think this would be a good film for someone who is looking for a quick first overview of the history of the earth or wants to catch up on the latest news since around 2015.
The description, however, is just that, descriptive. It focuses on what happened but doesn't get into why. In ather words, it doesn't talk about the science. For example, there no mention of of why dust grains in the early solar system began to clump together, e..g static electricity rather than gravity.
Over all I think the film is intended to create a sense of awe in viewers who are not science oriented. The narrator speaks in an intense, dramatic whisper throughout like he's conveying a great secret. Persaonally, I find that really annoying. And every event is illustrated with flashy CGI.
The Seven Sages of Antiquity (2010)
Meandering through Geece in the Sixth Century BC
The Seven Sages are the focal point for this rambling retrospective of Greece in the 6th century BC. The narrative weaves together Greek history, mythology and the biographies of the sages.
The wisdom of the Seven Sages is presented through their maxims which range from practical to vague, obvious to insightful. So their public works as rulers, judges. lawmakers, military leaders and mathematicians are described to better atest to their lasting impact on human society.
The program is also part travelogue as Bob visits the ruins of the birthplaces of the Seven Sages and the localities are shown as they appear today.
London: A Tale of Two Cities (2012)
Whilte I'm not a fan of Dan Cruickshank's hyper-enthusiastic narrative style, his story of 17th century London is most engaging. The idea that London rose to greatness on a foundation of scandal; priates, prostitutes, gambling, liquor, human feces, gossip, land speculators, coffee and worst of all French immigrants then thrived after back to back disasters; plaque and fire is remarkable.
Dan delves into obscure sources of entertaining and semingly trivial facts that provided the sparks of London's blossoming. And he tells the stories, with great admiration, of obscure individuals who rose to prominence by establishing new industries that escalated the growth of the city.
Voyage of the Continents (2012)
Whatever hapened to Gondwana?
I would characterize "Voyage of the Continents" as a geohistory series focusing on the transition of Gondwana, and Pangea, into the modern continents. Scientists are introduced and provide commentary but there isn't nearly as much focus on them and their work as in the fashionable "Nova" series. The science is also on the light side compare to, for example, the geology series "How the earth was made."
But it is an engaging series that tells the story of each continent from a plate tectonics point of view. So unless you live in Antarctica there is an episode in the series that will stike close to home.
The series is also facinating as a travelogue. It explains in some detail how scientists know, or at least believe, a certain event in geological history happened. To do that the featured scientists visit rock formation around the word and explain, on the spot, how they were formed and what they mean to the origin of each continent. Some spots are great tourist destinations. Others are on the remotest corners of the Earth.
The series also explains how platatectonics impacts life on earth from mass extinctions to individual species. Episode 7, "Asia: The Tectonics of Life and Death" gives particular insight into platectonics' role in human civilization right up to modern times.
Castle Builders (2015)
The History of the Castle
"Castle Builders" is an historical series describing how castles evoled over the centuries to meet the needs ot the times from military stronghold, to city defence to fashion statement. Considering the investment required to build a castle it should be no surprise that castles often played a crucial role in historical events.
Those moments when the castles were improtant historical figures are described in some detail along with the reasons for building them in each case. So the castle builders referred to in the title were really the kings and princes that requisitioned them. Relatively little attention is paid to the designers and physical builders. Just a few of the designers are mentined by name and there are some oft repeated reenactments of the construction laborers cutting beams, chipping stone, lifting loads and such.
Some specifics are provided about castle features and what was achieved by them. But, despite the numerous examples, the features are never described in much detail. Some features, such as the portcullis and barbican are never even defined.
I believe this series will be of interest to the castle enthusiast looking for a concise historical overview. But for the architecturally or sociologically minded viewer it will be a disappointment.
Lessons on Despiration
Be aware that this episode contains a great deal of extremely gruesome video footage and photography of the casualties and devestation of the Dresden raid and of air and ground combat related to the story line. I expect many people will find it disturbing and perhaps horrifying.
I have been aware of the Dresden raid for several decades but never learned the details. I was anxious to learn more and I chose this episode from the series to watch first. For me, this was an excellent overview of the events leading up to the raid, of the actions that transpired during the raid and the reslting impact on the war. The allies motivations for proceding with the raid are supported by these historical events.
Thoughout the episode the program directly confronts the overarching question whether the action against Dresden was immoral even in an environment of "Total War" (a term esposed by Hitler). I feel the episode gives a balanced description of controversy. I addition to the Allies motivations it presents the German perspective but distinguishes fact from propoganda and describes the regret felt by many Allied leaders in the aftermath.
While the program presents the various opinions it does not endorse any of them. Perhaps the producers, directors and writers feel as I do; that safe in my home 75 years later, I don't feel qualified nor justified in making a judgement. But I felt they they are suggesting Dresden should serve as warning against such actions in the future.
Thud Pilot (2018)
Thunderchief Stories in the Pilots Own Words
"Thud Pilot" tells the stories of the F-105 Thunderchief and the pilots who flew them during the Vietnam War. Like many films in this genre it tends to glamourize the aircraft and pilots. What sets it apart are the extended accounts by the pilots and of their experiences flying the Thuds in combat over Vietnam. Their account are lengthy and detailed with some emotion and commentary. Each account is framed with historical background so the viewer understands the context of the pilot's stories. While the film is structured to document the aircraft the pilot's and maintenance chief's stories steal the show.
The film presents a scathing rebuke to the military tactics by which the Thuds were deployed attributing the tactic to timid politiciacians who had no idea how to win the Vietnam War. Many examples are presented of how these tactics unnecessarily endanged the lives of the Thud pilots and resulted in the loss of many men and machines. The film details the ineffective tactics which were eventually discarded but only after decisive opportunities for the Thunderchiefs to impact the war were lost.
There is a quick look at the Vietnam War protests with a comment that the protestors tooks sides with the North Vietnamese. While that may have been a common sentiment of the day it is not a valid historical note. This short segment also ads nothing to the film and would have been better left on the cutting room floor.
House of Little Deaths (2016)
Behind the Scenes of a Modern Day Brothel
House of Little Deaths is the story of a group of women who live and work as prostitutes in a brothel in Philadelphia. It is presented in documentary style making it easy to forget the story is fiction and may not be a realistic portrail of life in a brothel.
The women have bonded to a signifagant extent into a family. Yet they still seem to feel a great deal of loneliness, disatissfaction with their lives and bodies and isolation from their local community and the world as a whole. They feel trapped in their lives by a lack of options, lack of outside relationships and the hold of sisterhood they have grown into. They seem to have a general dislike for their clients and are awkward interacting with them.
The film is long and plodding but it eventually grabs you through the dramatic cinematography. The cinematography is rather avant garde with extended scenes in black and white, false color or soft focus. There are extended close ups such as face, feet, knees with no dialog. The faces are particularly gripping as the videographer and actresses work very well together to subtly capture emotions and emotional transitions.
Over all it is a sad, depressing look at the lives of prostitutes even though they have excellent working conditions. "Little Deaths" normally refers to female orgasms but I think the intent here is a more morose reference to the women's lives. Even joyous events are met with trepidation. I can't can speak to the accuracy of this perspective but the film encourages the viewer to look at prostitution in it's mundane reality rather than the stereotypical perspective of Hollywood films.