Here's a list of things I learned while picking through the 8-episode History Channel series "Modern Marvels: Architectural Wonders."
Regarding the ancient Egyptian pyramids:
--The pyramids were crypts for Egyptian royalty, and the reason they were shaped this way was so the deceased spirits could ascend to the sun and be reborn.
--The Great Pyramid of Khufu, at 481 ft., was the largest man-made structure until the creation of The Eiffel Tower (1045 ft.) in 1890.
The Great Wall of China
--The wall is over 4,700 miles long and, contrary to popular rumor, it cannot be seen from the moon.
--The wall (as we know it today) is actually several walls built over several centuries that were connected together.
The Empire State Building
--Native American construction workers were among the most "death-defying" employees on the project.
--A plane crashed into the building in July of 1945, killing 14 people.
...anyway, you get the point: History Channel mini-docs that would have bored the living hell out of me as a kid now rank among my favorite time-killers. Produced on a middle-of-the-road level that'll educate the kids and keep the adults interested at the same time, THC's "Modern Marvels" series is quite a bit of good, geeky fun. Call me nuts, but learning how human beings built the Hoover Dam (and in 1931, no less!) is a pretty intriguing way to spend 44 minutes.
Eight episodes of The History Channel's "Modern Marvels: Architectural Wonders" are collected here -- although I really have to wonder why we need an 8-disc set for a release like this. (I'm guessing because THC also sells individual episodes from their own website, and this set just represents their overstock.) So while it might be a little annoying to have to switch discs after each 45-minute episode, the content is what matters -- and this is a pretty solid collection of content.
History buffs may find much of what's offered here old-hat or "surface level" material, but speaking as a guy who has to "Wiki" stuff all the time, I had a pretty good time feeding my brain with the "Architectural Wonders" set. (Another collection, "Modern Marvels: Technology," is also available as a separate purchase.)
The episodes are as follows:
The Great Wall of China
Golden Gate Bridge
St. Louis Arch
Empire State Building
Production value is typically cable-level, with informative commentary, lots of on-location footage, numerous interview segments, and (best of all) archival footage of the historical constructions. (Well, in some cases, anyway. There's no footage of the Pyramids being built, unfortunately.) Some of the episodes (Eiffel Tower) have to spin their wheels to reach 45 minutes, while others (The Pyramids) manage to stuff a LOT of info into a small-ish time frame.
Don't even pretend you haven't seen and enjoyed a few of these episodes already. The History Channel knows how to please their target audience, and this series does a fine job of delivering the architecturally historic goods. Nothing flashy or too exciting, but a little bit of brain food, delivered with quality.
Video: Cable-level full frame. As good as you've seen on your television, maybe a little crisper, but I doubt it.
Audio: Basic Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo. Does the job.
I liked the show enough to DVR it once in a while, so this 8-disc set was a good opportunity to learn a few new trivial tidbits about some of our planet's most fascinating buildings. I still think THC could have made things a little easier by tossing 3 or 4 episodes on each disc, but then they probably couldn't charge $35 for the set.