Now that we're well into the 2000s, enough time has passed that a
look back at the tumultuous decade of the 1980s can offer both some
perspective and a useful history lesson on relatively recent events
that viewers may either have forgotten about, or have been too young
to appreciate. History of the 80s, originally made by ABC News
in 1991, offers a briskly paced tour of these ten years.
Each episode covers one year, and presents the events of that year in
chronological order. Events that unfold over time, such as the Iran
hostage crisis, are interwoven with other events of that year (or
years), which helps to give a sense of perspective on what was
happening, and how it affected the political and social climate of
The episodes are entirely composed of footage from television news
broadcasts (and the occasional film clip) of the day, so we're really
seeing things just as they were presented at the time. Fortunately,
it's more than just a collage of media clips: the voiceover
narrator does a respectable job of explaining what's happening and
why, offering some perspective on events as well.
To be entirely correct, the title of History of the 80s should
really be "History of the U.S. during the 80s, with a few
important events in other countries thrown in as an afterthought."
While the programs do cover worldwide topics, it tends to be from the
perspective of the U.S. getting involved or being affected, though
not always. There's nothing inherently wrong with the U.S.-centric
approach, particularly since the program manages to be fairly
objective about its material, but it's certainly not the global
perspective that the initial presentation (complete with a background
image of the Earth seen from space) would suggest.
It would be difficult to give a detailed description of all the
topics that are covered in History of the 80s, since each
episode (running approximately 50 minutes) moves swiftly through a
variety of different events in politics, international relations,
entertainment, sports, technology, and culture. A sampling of these
topics would include the Carter/Reagan presidential election, the
development of PCs and VCRs, the Polish Solidarity movement, the 1984
Olympics in Los Angeles, the Iran-Iraq war, AIDS, the Challenger
disaster, homelessness in the U.S., the market crash in 1987,
Gorbachev's policies, and the fall of the Berlin Wall.
History of the 80s is a three-DVD set, packaged in a
double-wide plastic keepcase. Each year is a separate episode, with
1980-82 on Disc 1, 1983-85 on Disc 2, and 1986-1989 on Disc 3.
The image quality for History of the 80s is reasonably good:
after all, the material is all taken from broadcast television, not
film. There's the general softness and blurriness that comes from the
limitations of the source material, but apart from that, the transfer
is clean, bright, and presentable. The episodes are presented in
their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio.
Like the image quality, the soundtrack is in large part limited by
the nature of the source material: the sound on the broadcast TV
footage is sometimes muffled or distorted. Fortunately, the main
portion of the soundtrack features a voiceover narrator, who comes
across clearly and cleanly.
There are no special features on this set.
History of the 80s doesn't pretend to offer an in-depth look
at any of its topics, it does what it sets out to do quite well,
offering an interesting and informative guided tour of the 1980s.
It's a program that will be interesting both to those who lived
through the 1980s as an adult, and to those who were too young to
know anything about these events as they unfolded. Recommended.