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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.