DVD Review – The History Channel Presents: The Dark Ages

Link to get the DVD from Amazon.com
Link to get the DVD from Amazon.com

Thanks to the wonders of “Netflix Watch It Now”, I’ve been able to catch up on some great documentaries that I missed because I don’t have cable. I’ve also caught up on some not-so-great documentaries that I missed because I don’t have cable.  This documentary fits into one of those categories, and I’m not entirely sure which.

The Premise

Covering the period from the fall of Rome to the start of the Crusades, this documentary tries to cover basically all of the basics of European History during this period, using accounts from historians who are experts in the period, as well as footage of actors re-creating life during the period known as the “Dark Ages”.

The Good

The historians don’t err on the side of the pop-culture, the Vikings don’t have horns on their helmets (though you’d probably see more axes used in warfare at the time than we see used in this documentary, but that can be forgiven), the armor for the Centurions and most of the knights looks fairly accurate.

The Bad

The “Reenactment” sequences can be very hit-or-miss. Some times the clothing will be accurate but the houses won’t.  Little-to-no depictions of agriculture. Basically, going by the re-enactments, peasants huddled inside during the winter, and huddled outside during the summer, when they weren’t getting massacred by roaming hoards of bandits. When Monks weren’t copying manuscripts they wandered the halls of picturesque monasteries not-talking to each other, or getting massacred by roaming bands of Vikings. Oh, and Visigoths, Vikings, and the Moorish armies from North Africa look a lot alike.

The Ugly

The presentation of the documentary really errs on the side of the sensationalist. The narrator will begin discussion of one group of barbarians or another, and in a voice that is very similar to the late Don La Fontaine talk about how horrible this group of barbarians were, how all they did is rape, loot, pillage, and then go to the next village and do that some more. However, they then cut to the historians, who basically contradict the narrator on some of his points (basically getting across something to the effect that the narrator is half-right), before going back to the narrator about the next “fact” which will again, be half contradicted by the experts. It gives the film a very schizophrenic tone.

The Verdict

I’ve seen much, much worse, as far as historical programming is concerned. I have also, having watched every documentary James Burke put out, and most of Michael Wood’s stuff, seen better. If you can’t find anything better, give this a watch, otherwise, go with James Burke first.

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