Curious about some of the biggest "engineering disasters" ever created? Dying to know what goes into the construction of a "monster truck"? Want to know the truth behind sugar refinery, the creation of the atom bomb, and the world's longest bridge? If so, you have two options: You can keep your cable box frozen on The History Channel, or you can get your hands on this 8-disc box set of their "Modern Marvels: Technology" series. (Plus there's an entire episode dedicated to "James Bond Gadgets" AND a double-sized episode that looks into the creation of Disney World!)
I can't get enough of stuff like this, really. The first episode I jumped to deals with engineering disasters, which explains how poor planning and a little help from mother nature can conspire to cause big trouble (like exploding rockets and collapsing stadium roofs and stuff). Then I switched over to the episode on Walt Disney World, which is a pretty excellent look at all the stuff you never see at The Magic Kingdom: the hidden tunnels, the animatronic technology, the creation and upkeep of the rides, etc. This is the only episode that runs 90 minutes (the rest are 45), but I could have absorbed another hours' worth of the material.
The subjects covered are a strange lot indeed (we go from "The Manhattan Project" to "Candy" in two discs), but there's no shortage of juicy information, regardless of the topic. Obviously the episodes never get too technical, but they do offer a taste of how much technological effort goes into even the most trivial thing. (Did you know the Disney World trash-cans are cleaned out by suction? Neat!)
As with their "Modern Marvels: Architectural Wonders" set, A & E Home Video presents the series in an 8-episode, 8-disc set. Kinda cumbersome if you ask me, especially when 7 out of the 8 episodes run less than 50 minutes in length. Oh well. The episodes included here are as follows:
James Bond Gadgets
The Manhattan Project
More Engineering Disasters
The World's Longest Bridge
Walt Disney World
(Hey, what happened to Engineering Disasters Part 1?? I want more of the poorly-designed bridges!)
If you're trying to throw your kids a little education, but in a fast-paced and colorful presentation, these "Modern Marvels" series come pretty highly recommended. Then again, I'm a mid-30s guy and I'm learning tons of new stuff from these programs. Aside from the "one episode per disc" presentation, I'm a huge fan of these new sets. Then again, I've always been a "How'd they do that?" kind of guy.
Video: TV-level full frame, perfectly clean and watchable. (The Disney World episode is (mostly) widescreen.)
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo. Plain but fine.
If you're going to produce a TV series about the power of human technology, it's good to mix the good (bridges, candy, Disney World) with the bad (shoddy weapons, flimsy dams, and atomic bombs!). Not surprisingly, this well-produced, info-packed History Channel series covers the good, the bad, and the fascinatingly trivial, too.