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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Crusades: Crescent & The Cross
The Crusades: Crescent & The Cross
A&E Video // Unrated // December 26, 2005
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott | posted January 18, 2006 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
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The Show:

The Crusades were a bloody two hundred year period of history when Catholic nobles, knights, and commoners from Europe traveled 3000 miles across mountains and deserts to try to capture the holy city of Jerusalem.   At the time it was in the hands of Muslims who also held the city sacred.  The Crusades: The Crescent and the Cross is a made for TV documentary produced by the History Channel that looks at the first three Crusades that took place over a hundred year span of time.

In 1095 Pope Urban II received a letter from the head of the Eastern Orthodox church who was also the ruler of the Byzantine empire, Alexius Comnenus, requesting a small group of well trained soldiers to help him beat back the Muslim Turks.  The Turks had captured much of his empire already and were near the capital, Constantinople.  Alexius played up the fact that both he and the Pope were Christians and that the invaders were committing atrocities against other Christians in the area.

At the time Europe was a very violent place, with city states constantly fighting and trivial wars always breaking out.  Urban saw this request as a chance to civilize Europe, and take the holy land of Jerusalem away from the Muslims:  He would entice the warriors of Europe to go to the Middle East.  To achieve this end  he called for the first crusade in November of 1095.  A very persuasive man, he energized his listeners by telling of horrible crime that were being perpetrated against other Christians and the glory that would come to those who freed the holy city.  He did one other thing too: he stated that if anyone devoted their lives to the crusade, God would forgive all of their sins.

This was a huge enticement, and 60,000 people, including women and some entire families, set out on the long journey to Jerusalem secure in the knowledge that whatever happened, they would get their heavenly reward.

This documentary follows the first crusaders from the time they set out, until the surviving 13,000 arrive at the gates of the holy city.  It shows the Muslim's reaction to this crusade, the disastrous (for the Europeans) Second Crusade, and the rise of the Arab leader Saladin.  The last section chronicles the Third Crusade where Richard the Lion Hearted and his men battle Saladin to a stand still.

This was a very entertaining and engrossing documentary.  The show was able to present the main participants in the various crusades and their motivations in a simple and straight forward manner while also showing their weaknesses and flaws.  The show never gets bogged down in dates and names though, and the ample reenactments make the show very lively.

There were many, many atrocities committed by both sides, and these are discussed, so this may not be appropriate for very young viewers.  Though I always knew that both sides considered their enemies godless savages, I was surprised at some of the things that happened.  The crusaders would kill Christians they found in Muslim held cities without any compunction and there was even an incident where they ate the slaughtered residents of one city.

The one thing that really sets this documentary apart though is that they tell the story from both sides.  First person and historically written accounts from both the European and Arab sides are given, along with comments from scholars from both areas.  It is very interesting to see how even today certain events are looked at through different eyes depending on where you are from.  In the Middle East today, the crusades are still looked on as a time that western barbarians came to destroy the arab world at its cultural peak.

The DVD:


This two part documentary runs three hours in length and comes in a nice two disc set.  Each disc has its own keepcase and both cases are enclosed in a slipcase.  The documentary is on the first disc while all of the bonus features are on the second.

Audio:

The stereo English soundtrack is suitable for this type of show.  The narration is clear as are the on screen commentators, and the background music sounds fine.  The battle scenes don't have the aural impact that today's big budget movies have, but that's to be expected.  A solid soundtrack.

Video:

I was quiet disappointed to discover that widescreen image is not anamorphically enhanced.  With the proliferation of 16 X 9 screens that we see today (I have two in my home) there's really no reason not to make an anamorphic DVD.  Aside from that, the image was about average.  There wasn't anything really outstanding about the picture, but there wasn't any major flaws either.  The colors were solid but some dark areas lost detail.  Digital defects weren't a problem.

Extras:

All of the bonus material is on the second disc.  With an entire disc devoted to extras, I was hoping for a bit more, especially some material on the later crusades.  As it is there are only two featurettes and a timeline.

The Knights Templar is an episode of In Search of History that deals with this odd group of monastic warriors.  The 45 minute episode has lower production values than the feature, and it uses the same reenactment footage over and over, which is disappointing.  Though it does do a good job describing this groups origins and rise to power, the second half of the show is devoted to less scholarly endeavors, creating mysteries where none may really exist.  They put forth some patently absurd ideas about this group, including the theory that these Crusaders were secretly Muslims.  They use present the most tenuous evidence for much of the more absurd claims.  It is too bad that the later part of the show lacks rigor, since it casts a shadow on the rest of the show.

There is also a 20+ minute making of featurette that was created to promote the show.  They show how some of the reenactments were staged, but also spend a good amount of time retelling the story in abbreviated from.  While this is nice, it's nothing special.

There is also a text timeline that lists the major events discussed in the show.  It would have been nice if they included some maps of the region too.

Final Thoughts:

The effects of the Crusades are still being felt today.  In the Middle East, the battles of Saladin and Richard the Lion Hearted are still taught in schools.  Arabs still look at these events as a time when barbarians came and slaughtered entire cities.  After seeing this documentary, I can see why Arabs cringed when President George W. Bush stated that the US was on a "crusade" against terrorism.

This documentary presents a hundred years of history in a very accessible and entertaining fashion.  The history from what I could tell was accurate, and though some events were covered more than others, it was complete.  The fact that they give show both sides of the conflict makes this very balanced and puts many events in the proper perspective.  If you are looking to learn more about this time in history, this would be a great place to start for a solid overview.  Highly Recommended.

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