Empires – Dynasties
As much as we hate to say it, sometimes education can be fun,
interesting and entertaining.
PBS’ Dynasties sports five discs examining five of history’s
greatest empires: The Greeks – Crucible of Civilization;
The Medici – Godfathers of the Renaissance; Japan – Memoirs
of a Secret Empire; The Roman Empire – In the First Century;
and Egypt’s Golden Empire. Each takes an extensive
look at its respective civilization, and gives us a fantastic
history lesson that’s well told and well-produced.
One of the topics of history we find most interesting is
the civilization of ancient Greece , which was responsible for
much that we hold dear
This section of the Dynasties set shows the Greeks from their
beginnings as a bunch of isolated and different city states through
of democracy and the flourishing of arts, science, and philosophy.
The production values are terrific, from the unusual use of "frozen
actors" to put human faces on some of the most important historical
figures to the choice of having shot the series in 16x9 widescreen.
The disc is fascinating, and anyone interested in history
should take a look at it. It really does an excellent job of
bringing the ancient Greeks to life again.
All of these pieces work because they don’t feature
a bunch of stuffed shirts standing in front of a chalkboard monotonedly
for word from an overrated textbook. Instead, these documentaries
take you into the time, introduce you to characters, and let
them through the turns of events.
It’s interesting to see how hundreds – and
sometimes thousands – of years later, things really aren’t
that different when it all comes down to it. People are pretty
well the same, we still have social and political clashes, sexism,
racism, people robbing
of their freedom and people criticizing others for wanting to
get it back.
Using actors instead of only using historians gives it more
realistic, personal feel. It’s like watching an epic story
unfold, one that’s free of Hollywood studio input and historical
inaccuracies (at least as far as we know). The discs educate
and entertain, but don’t overload you with too much information
at once or ever get preachy or politically correct, which is
surprising considering that this is from PBS!
All of these pieces are great, but most interesting may be The
Medici, if only because it’s the section we were the least
familiar with. We’ve heard plenty of times the stories
of the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians, but you rarely hear any
mention of Medici, who were actually essential in the transition
from the Dark Ages to the Renaissance. Da Vinci, Michelangelo
and Galileo may never have accomplished what they did without
the Medici family.
Some of the documentaries run over 200 minutes, but they’re
so well made that you don’t even care. A couple of them
are even too short, in the sense that you don’t want them
to end. Learning is rarely this entertaining! We recommend these
docs to anyone wanting to learn more about history’s greats,
but make sure you have plenty of free time.
The DVD presentations are very good, indeed. Each piece is presented
in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital Stereo. Quality
is good for both, though the picture quality suffers from some
grain in certain places. Not that this is the type of situation
in which we’d care too much. Audio is surprisingly good,
with the sound effects and dialogue meshing very well.
The Medici features a making-of featurette and a “Who’s
Who: Key Characters of the Renassaince” piece. The Greeks
includes a director’s commentary and some additional scenes
not shown in the original broadcast.
Empires – Dynasties, from PBS Home Video
140 – 220 minutes, anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) 16x9
enhanced, Dolby Digital Stereo
Tell us at TechnoFile what YOU think