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Big History - Season 1 Review




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Rating
Video:   7/10
Audio:   8/10
Extras:   2/10

Headaches!
by Gord Lacey (All reviews)
3/10/2014

    The Big History DVD collection turns history on its head, breaks down the walls between history and science, and tells the story of the universe from the Big Bang through today. Crisscrossing through time and space, each episode reveals the transformative relationships between science and history that you never knew existed. For example, most people don't know that they carry the legacy of the Titanic, and even the Big Bang, in their pockets every day in the form of a cell phone. We'll explore 13.7 billion years of history and ask questions like: What is the connection between Egyptian mummies and today's ham and cheese sandwich? Was the American Revolution driven in part by a biological thirst for caffeine? And why does nearly every ancient civilization build massive structures in the shape of a pyramid? Narrated by Bryan Cranston, this History series uses cutting-edge visuals and graphics to show surprising links between past and present.
Big History is a show about big ideas, and how something that happens millions of years ago can affect things today. The show presents ideas and links them through a web of evidence that spans time, and geographic location. Based on "The Big History Project," a free, online course examining the concepts in the show, this is a show about big ideas.

Now, this is a show that actually belongs on "The History Channel" - a TV show about history! I was interested in checking this out after reading a synopsis, and noticing Bryan Cranston was the narrator. It's definitely a topic that interests me, and I'll likely sign up for the online course when I get a chance.

This 3-disc set includes all 17 episodes of the show:

Disc 1 (2:30:44)
The Superpower of Salt (21:31)
Horse Power Revolution (21:32)
Gold Fever (21:33)
Below Zero (21:32)
Megastructures (21:33)
Defeating Gravity (21:31)
World of Weapons (21:32)

Disc 2 (2:30:39)
Brain Boost (21:33)
Mountain Machines (21:30)
Pocket Time Machine (21:33)
Deadly Meteors (21:31)
Decoded (21:34)
Rise of the Carnivores (21:28)
The Sun (21:30)

Disc 3 (2:11:04)
Silver Supernova (21:33)
H2O (21:31)
The Big History of Everything (1:28:00)

Video

Presented in 1080p, 1.78:1, I'd love to tell you that Big History looks outstanding, but it doesn't. The show is comprised of tons and tons of stock footage shots, and the quality varies. Some look like upconverted SD, other shots have poor black levels, some look a bit compressed, and others have frames that skip, resulting in jerky motion. The in-studio interviews are consistent, but those could be the only shots created for the show. There are chapters after the opening credits, and each disc has a play-all feature. You can also select an episode on a different disc, then you're instructed to insert that disc and the episode will start to play.

Audio

The audio for this, which is an English 5.1 DTS-HD track, sounds good. It's heavily dependent on the center channel, and I didn't notice any directional effects that stood out, though the speakers were used for plenty of ambient whooshing sounds. There are subtitles in English and Spanish.

Extras - How we rate extras

Trailers (4:13)
Houdini, Ancient Aliens, Duck Dynasty and The Men Who Built America.

Featurettes (30:03)
There are 10 featurettes looking at other aspects of the show; Big History, Are We Alone, Common Man, Complexity, Connections, Global History, Moments, Mysteries, Questions, and Thresholds. I found the audio on these to be very quiet compared to the series episodes.

Summary

This show sounded really, really interesting when I read about it, but I found the execution of the show to be a headache-inducing mess. As I mentioned before, each episode is a compilation of numerous stock footage shots edited together to form a story. That means each episode contains hundreds of short clips, along with 3D animations that spin around and zoom in and out. It was overload for me, and every time I watched an episode I walked away with a headache. The ideas were interesting, but I couldn't handle the pace of the show (and this is coming from someone who has no problems with the hand-held jerky motion that so many shows shoot with these days). Hey, maybe I'm just getting old.

Big History is an interesting concept, but I don't think it works well as a TV series.


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