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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Vampire Princess
Vampire Princess
Smithsonian Networks // Unrated // October 14, 2008
List Price: $14.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Michael Zupan | posted November 19, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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I just reviewed Legend of the Crystal Skulls not too long ago, which is another documentary that was put together by the Smithsonian network. I found it to be very enjoyable because it was presented well, and it was about a piece of history that sounded pretty wicked. I mean come on, we're talkin' about crystal skulls! How could that not be awesome? When I saw the Smithsonian network hammered out another documentary called The Vampire Princess, I knew I had to see what it was all about. It seems the nice presentation the Smithsonian put together the first time around wasn't a fluke, because a great amount of care was put into this feature as well.

When archaeologists uncover a few skeletons in the Czech Republic, they realize they didn't just stumble upon a few graves. Large stones were located around the bodies, one had its skull between its legs with a large stone in its mouth, and the other had a piece of its sternum missing. Such a find pointed to a burial that was meant to keep the dead from rising from the grave, specifically vampires.



Right from the beginning, we're told about a feverish fear of vampirism that was rampant in the early to mid 18th century, something I was never aware was actually a part of history. I knew that the concept of vampires was pretty ancient, but I had no idea that people thought they were real, and took such drastic steps to protect themselves from the blood sucking creatures that supposedly owned the night.

You hear about gravestones being desecrated all the time today. Kids might pee on a stone, knock it over, who knows what else. Other things that aren't considered disrespectful today are done because of superstition. However, when you take it into your own hands to dig up bodies, and burn them in a fire if they don't look as if they decomposed as they should have because that's a sure sign of a vampire, that's about as primitive in your thought process as you can get! Guards in town didn't approve of this, so eventually heavy stones were left on limbs of the body to make sure they couldn't move, stakes were hammered into the hearts of their beloved, and the heads were even decapitated and placed in between their legs. Imagine doing that to someone you loved shortly after their passing? People must have been really superstitious, eh?



The rest of the documentary fills us in on what may have been the muse for Bram Stoker's classic novel, Dracula.

Princess Eleonore von Schwartzenberg wasn't like the others that were accused (after death) of vampirism. Those afflicted were usually from the lower class, but she had money, and she had power. I don't want to take away the entire reason for watching this documentary, which is detailing the final years of Princess Eleanore, and what turn of events lead people to believe she was a vampire waiting to die to claim undead immortality.

However, this was no hoax, as was the original documentary I reviewed about the crystal skulls. What we have this time around is an extreme case of human ignorance back in the days of DUH! Medical practices back then were a mixed bag of research, magic, and superstition. This is an incredibly interesting documentary because we don't only examine one of the coolest fables of our own history, we examine the extreme nature homo-sapiens would display in the face of danger when science wasn't around to explain things to them.




Video


Right before the documentary begins, you see the Smithsonian HD logo. I thought that I'd be treated to a low key documentary in an anamorphic transfer for a change. I shouldn't have let those joyous feelings swell inside of me, because it's a non-anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer. I'm really not sure why a company that apparently slaps the 'HD' lettering at the end of its broadcast name, can't get a simple anamorphic transfer right. Want to know the beautiful thing about anamorphic transfers? They'll still appear to be letterboxed on a 4:3 tube set, and they'll fill the screen of a widescreen TV! You can appease both demographics! Does it really require that much more effort, especially if the content in question was apparently filmed in HD?

The picture quality overall isn't bad though for what it is. There isn't any edge enhancement to complain about, and there isn't any noise to complain about as far as the transfer itself goes. The picture is sharp, although at times you can see some interlacing going on, but this isn't something that's going to distract you while watching the DVD. The color scheme looks intentionally drab. There's a lot of great imagery during the reenactment portions of this documentary, but the downfall here is how dark it always looks. The black levels are deep, and lighter scenes have very nice contrast. Unfortunately, the direction made the image too dark, often hiding detail.


Audio


There's a choice to hear this in Dolby Digital 5.1, or in a 2.0 track. This is a documentary that was made for the mere purpose of educating anyone who's willing to watch, so all the audio is focused in the front. The only thing the 5.1 track provides over the stereo track is the music lightly playing in your rear speakers. If you normally are accustomed to watching things in surround sound, yet find yourself unable to view this in an environment that has surround channels, you're not going to be missing anything. I will say though, that there are some intentional sound effects that are used through the score in your rear speakers in an attempt to sound creepy. I also found myself quite surprised one time to hear some great direction from some fireworks.

Overall everything sounds nice and clean, with no hissing or distortion to complain about at all. The sound levels between the narration and the score are mixed much better this time around than when I reviewed Legend of the Crystal Skulls, so I can't really nitpick too much about how the audio was treated for this release.


Extras


There's a short promotional video that's intended to get us excited about the Smithsonian Channel, and that's about it. I think the only thing that's going to speak volumes to me about the Smithsonian Channel, is seeing more quality documentaries such as this one on a regular basis. A lot of people might look at the DVD case and think it looks like something they would have watched in history class back in the day, but the Smithsonian knows how to present its info!


Overall




Once again, the Smithsonian network does a great job pulling together a documentary. The narration isn't boring, the interviews don't make me want to bite my wrist to the point of bleeding to death, the topic is one that's right up there on the cool-o-meter, and it doesn't drag! You learn a lot about the superstitious side of human nature, and you learn quite a bit about where the idea from Dracula came from, too! Did you know the first chapter of that book was originally written about a woman, and not a man? It eventually was rewritten, and it's just another piece in an already long line of facts that point the finger to this Vampire Princess as the original Dracula. As far as documentaries go, I would definitely recommend this to anyone. However, if you're not the kind of person to watch a documentary DVD more than once, there's nothing too extraordinary here that's going to make you want to watch it again.
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