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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Unsolved History: The Roman Colosseum
Unsolved History: The Roman Colosseum
Discovery Channel // Unrated // June 15, 2004
List Price: $21.95 [Buy now and save at Discovery]
Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted June 30, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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The movie

It occurred to me to write this review in an approximation of the style that Unsolved History: Roman Colosseum is presented in... but I thought better of it. Readers would get so heartily sick of it in just a few sentences that they'd bail on the rest of the review, and thus miss out on the important message of the review: don't waste your money on this stinker.

I love the Romans. How can you go wrong with a documentary focused on the Roman Colosseum? By providing 45 minutes of Dramatic! Narrative! Asking! Portentous! Questions! and taking pains to avoid letting any actual interesting facts slip in. Mustn't tire the viewers out with any actual content, after all. Unsolved History: Roman Colosseum appears to operate under the assumption that viewers have the attention spans of chipmunks hyped on caffeine: every other sentence is some sort of come-on to try to "hook" the viewer into being interested in what's about to be revealed. One gets the sense that the filmmakers were afraid to actually spend more than thirty seconds on a single concept... I mean, dude, what if we, like, got bored with it? Um, did anybody think to tell the filmmakers that in reality, there are few things as genuinely boring as all hype and no content? (Apparently not.)

Eventually, a few tiny bits of information do get presented. For instance, we get to see a computer simulation of how the Colosseum really looked when it was first built (although there's no explanation of how they figured out what was missing, or how they determined the functions of the different areas, so in essence this bit of information is robbed of most of its value because of the lack of context), and we learn that the Colosseum was most likely flooded with water for aquatic games. But here, as in the entire program, far too much attention is placed on completely irrelevant things in a labored attempt to make the program "exciting." For example, there's a long sequence in which the "drama" is... will the scientists figure out whether the sample of sealant from the Colosseum is really waterproof or not! Sure, I'm interested in finding out whether the arena was actually waterproofed... but not in watching as the scientists prepare the specimen, look at it under the microscope, run tests on it, and so on, because that's just meaningless visual filler that doesn't provide me with any information.

I get the impression that the people who created Roman Colosseum actually think that archaeology is boring; that's the only way I can explain how they manage to focus the program on irrelevant things and consistently avoid going into any detail for those elements that have genuine interest.

Oh, and if you somehow zone out and miss the few bits of information that do get presented, don't worry: after each commercial break, the program summarizes what's gone before. As I said, there's precious little space for genuine content here.

The DVD

Video

Unsolved History: Roman Colosseum is presented in an unremarkable but satisfactory transfer, at its original television aspect ratio of 1.33:1. Everything looks reasonably clear and clean, with normal-looking colors.

Audio

The Dolby stereo soundtrack is, like the video transfer, perfectly satisfactory. There's nothing much for it to do, apart from presenting the voiceover narration in a clear and clean manner, which it does.

Extras

This DVD deserves negative stars for special features, and it certainly goes a long way toward making me vow never to buy anything from the Discovery Channel. You see, the DVD opens with an un-skippable advertisement for Discovery Channel products. Yes, that's right: an advertisement, not just a trailer.

The chapter menu also deserves an award for "turning back the clock on progress in user interface design." The handful of chapters are designated solely by time: skip 10 minutes ahead, skip 20 minutes ahead, etc. Did the producers of this DVD even know what a normal chapter selection menu looked like? Did they care? We'll never know.

Final thoughts

Unsolved History: Roman Colosseum manages to take an interesting topic and make it pathetically boring. The 45-minute program is so light on content it could float away, were it not for the heavy-handed attempts to interest the viewer by repeatedly asking portentous questions like "What really happened in the Roman Colosseum?" If you buy this DVD, the only question you'll be asking is "Why didn't I follow the advice of the DVDTalk review?" Skip it!

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