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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » History Channel: Clash of the Cavemen
History Channel: Clash of the Cavemen
A&E Video // Unrated // August 5, 2008
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Michael Zupan | posted August 3, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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We've all had the epiphany, even if it was brief, that in reality we're all very insignificant in our size compared to what's 'out there'. How far did you take that line of thought? Have you ever thought about what it took to get the human race to where it is today? I mean really? There were so many different factors that were in play from the creation of the universe, to the creation of our sun and our planet. That's not even contemplating everything that had to happen on earth for us to be here today at the top of the food chain. When you really think about it, it was a virtual crap-shoot. We easily could have been eaten by big animals, killed off by disease, or possibly worse. However, we're here and thriving... not to say there weren't obstacles along our own evolution. Our kind had split into two different species - Neanderthals and Cro Magnons. The History Channel shows us with Clash of the Cavemen, what benefited us enough to let us survive and not the Neanderthals.

I'm not sure how many people take into account that Neanderthals didn't just simply evolve into the Cro Magnon, which is where our own lineage stems from. The Cro Magnon's had fully developed brains, and they shared land with the Neanderthals for at least five thousand years.

Neanderthals weren't quite as stupid as history and certain modern day television make them out to be. They were able to create crude weapons for the hunt, they lived as family in their own clans, and they even buried their dead. Still speculated are the belief systems of the Neanderthals. Did they bury their dead for religious beliefs, or did they do it to keep animal hunters away? They had a decent way of life that bound each of them to solid values of family, and they had an adequate way to take down their prey at very close range.

Cro Magnon's had come along and had to compete for the same food. Their fully functional brains enabled them to create long, shave pointed spears without the use of stones. This highlights the first of many differences that show us the difficulty the Neanderthals were going to have throughout the rest of their existence.

The stone headed spears used by Neanderthals were only effective at close range. If hurdled through the air, a miss could lead their weapon to smash its tip and break. In order to make their kill, it usually meant sacrificing the safety of a clan member so that others could get close enough to stab their prey.

Cro Magnon's shaved a point on a long piece of wood, so they could throw them at long range and stay out of harm's way. Not only was this useful for safety reasons, but it lead to multiple kills in a pack of animals travelling together. The spears would be thrown and hit their targets before the animals even knew they were under attack. With the Neanderthal technique, the other animals in the pack would have been scared away.

I won't go into massive detail about everything, as anyone who picks this up is going to be more than aware of what kind of information they'll be fed. I will say that covered in this feature are theories about inter-breeding, the effects of introduced diseases by the Cro Magnon, and even the differences in their body type and how each would benefit from their height and size.

This DVD is self advertised as being a cinema-quality documentary. If they think 'cinema' is the same thing as dressing up people in make-up and costume in the wilderness, and filming a theoretical story that shows us what challenges Neanderthals faced, then I guess I can see that. However, filming this in such a way and showing it in a widescreen aspect ratio, doesn't really make this a 'cinematic' experience. This may be a bit harsh since there's not really that much you can do with a documentary. Being looked at as a documentary and not a cinematic experience, I can say that the ninety-four minute run-time didn't seem to drag for me at all. The recreation of the time period necessary to show us the differences between each species was done well enough to get its point across.

It was very informative and I walked away with quite a bit of information that I didn't have before. The only problem I can see that applies to many commentaries, is that we're being given a lot of information that's theoretical. When you're looking at a bunch of artifacts and bones, there's not much more you can do. Everything needs to be taken with a pretty big grain of salt. To balance this out, the documentary doesn't follow one theory specifically over another. It instead provides us with the multiple theories that are out there. Was interbreeding with the Cro-Magnon's the cause of Neanderthal extinction? Were the Neanderthals simply unable to compete for food? These questions and much more, are answered.


Video:

For such a cinematic experience as was self advertised, I would have expected the 16:9 aspect ratio to have been anamorphic. Unfortunately that's not the case.

The picture looks pretty clean for the most part. Black levels are good and the colors look natural and not over-saturated with artificial skin tones. The colors do seem very lush when we're talking with archeologists in the current day, and the picture looks nice and sharp without noticeable edge enhancement.

One problem that is rather ugly though, is the interlacing effect throughout the entirety of the program. Also, certain shots are presented with a bit of grain that also looks bad, however I think this is from the filming since the majority of the feature isn't clothed in grain.


Audio:

We're given a Dolby Digital 2.0 track that never really provides enough depth between the left and right channels. I've heard some stereo tracks before that still do a good amount of cross mixing; however it's pretty absent from this release. I know this is due to how it was made and televised, and looking at it from this angle, the sound was clean. The noises from the recreated historical scenes never over-powered the narrating, and there were never any pops or other defects in the sound to complain of.


Extras:

The extras have gone extinct with the Neanderthals, it seems.


Overall:

I've always been interested in knowing about our entire history. Take a look at the world we're living in today, and try to think what it would have been like to live back in the time where we would have had to compete with a species similar to our own. It's truly mind-blowing. If you want all the information about our final struggles with the Neanderthals to become the species we are today, it's presented here on this DVD in a manner that's not too dry. Without much care given in the way of an anamorphic transfer, and the lack of extras, I'd give a solid rent it recommendation to anyone who's looking to enlighten themselves a little. The information isn't presented in enough of a mind-blowing experience to warrant a lot of replay value, so I wouldn't recommend a purchase. I do encourage anyone who's curious to see it at least once.
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