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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » How the Earth Was Made
How the Earth Was Made
A&E Video // PG // April 15, 2008
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by David Cornelius | posted May 19, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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If you're going to cover 4.5 billion years of Earth's history in just 90 minutes, you're going to have to stick to the highlights.

The History Channel documentary "How the Earth Was Made" acts as a beginner's course to the complete evolution of our humble planet, from its fiery origins right up to the present, plus a pinch of speculation on the future added at the end. The very concept of "deep time" - geologists' term for large-scale time spans - is difficult to grasp; even knowing that the entire amount of human existence is but a fraction of a fraction in the history of the solar system doesn't quite prepare one to think in terms of billions of years. The documentary does an excellent job of condensing all that deep time into comprehensible chunks.

Narrated by History Channel standby Edward Herrmann, the program uses impressive CG graphics and location shooting to recap all the major events of Earth's growth: devastating impacts, the lengthy transformation from dry, barren world to a water- and oxygen-rich oasis, the dawn of life, several mass extinctions, and the migration of entire continents.

Each chapter is explained with both Herrmann's fact-filled voiceovers and a collection of talking head interviews with an array of scientists. This allows the documentary to also detail the history of modern scientific discoveries; as each geological key point is revealed, so is the scientific study that led to its understanding. How did scholars suddenly go from thinking the world was only a few thousand years old to realizing they were off by several zeroes? How does modern geology help us understand how land masses formed? More than just give us history, it gives us the history of how we've come to understand history.

The program does fall into the typical History Channel traps at times - namely, it shows a preference for showier material (explosions! volcanoes! the planet's eventual destruction!), while the channel's format that requires protracted recaps of previously covered material to help bring the viewer back from commercial breaks leads to a heavy dose of repetition here, with the breaks removed.

But the bulk of "How the Earth Was Made" is fascinating stuff, par for the course for the channel that knows how to create highly addictive programs. Anyone with even the slightest interest in science and "deep" history will find a treasure trove of information here. It's just the highlights, but the highlights are enough to thrill.

The DVD

Thinking green, the History Channel presents "How the Earth Was Made" in eco-friendly packaging. While the intention is admirable, the result is a mess. The packaging uses recycled cardboard as a substitute for the usual plastic tray, and the hub is so inflexible that it's easy to get the disc on but nearly impossible to remove it. I felt like I was about to snap the disc in half, that's how much it would bend before finally separating from the tray. Worse, the cardboard is a dusty kind that occasionally leaves little bits of paper dust on the disc itself. Sheesh.

Video & Audio

Presented in its original 1.78:1 widescreen format, "How the Earth Was Made" looks splendid, with the visual effects shots shining in great clarity. Interview segments are crisp and clean. The downside: it's a non-anamorphic, flat letterbox transfer.

The Dolby stereo soundtrack does a fine job balancing the dialogue with the numerous sound effects that play throughout. No subtitles are provided, although the disc is closed captioned.

Extras

The 90-minute documentary "Inside the Volcano" could have earned a DVD release on its own, and its presence here essentially makes this disc a double feature. Another quality History Channel production, this one covers (of course) the life and impact of volcanoes. (Presented in 1.78:1 flat letterbox.)

Five deleted scenes (ten minutes total) add even more educational value.

Final Thoughts

Packaging and letterbox flaws aside, "How the Earth Was Made" is a keeper. The program is top notch, and the bonus documentary is a nice addition. Recommended.
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