The History Channel's Human Weapon was on the air only one season but it was marginally interesting while it lasted. The premise? Two tough guys, a mixed martial arts champion named Jason Chambers and a professional football player named Bill Duff, travel around the world to check out different regional fighting arts. They dabble in some training, offer up some insight on what makes each art effective and deadly in its own right, and give us a crash course in each style's history.
The series is spread out over four discs. The first disc teaches us about Muay Thai in Thailand, Eskrima in the Philippines, Karate in Japan, Savate street fighting in France, and Judo on a second trip to Japan. Disc two starts off with a look at Pankration in Greece (considered by some to be the first martial art), the infamous Krav Maga on a journey to Israel where they train with some commandos, the Marine Corps' own brand of martial arts at home in the United States, the popular trend of Mixed Martial Arts currently sweeping the United States, and of course, a look at Kung Fu in China. Disc three covers extreme Sambo fighting in Russia, the more obscure Pradel Serey in Cambodia (referred to as Cambodian blood sport!), and Silat in Malaysia. Disc four covers Ninjutsu in a third trip to Japan, and then finally, Taekwondo in the last episode's voyage to South Korea. Sixteen episodes, sixteen different styles.
So obviously the focus of the series is on educating viewers about the different fighting styles that are out there. All of us have heard of Karate, Kung Fu and Judo while most of us are familiar with Taekwondo, and maybe Muay Thai as well. Those are covered, and quite well, as each style is treated with respect and discussed intelligently. Where the series shines, however, is by covering more obscure martial arts, they kind that might not instantly recognize from the movies. It's probably a safe bet that only a handful of people reading this are familiar with Krav Maga (though it did manage to work its way into the episode of The Simpsons when they travelled to Israel and Bart got into a fight with the tour guide's daughter!) and few still know the history of Pankration. This series opens the eyes of western audiences to styles that haven't made their way to our shores with the same prominence of the more popular fighting arts. Yes, UFC and the mixed martial arts craze have incorporated elements from all manner of worldwide martial arts, but they're still far from mainstream. Pay attention to the series as it plays out and you'll not only be entertained, but you'll also learn something. This was a History Channel series, after all, so you've got to expect a bit of history out of it and the show delivers that well with a good mix of just-scholarly-enough narration, footage of our hosts diving in with both feet and trying to learn what they can from various experts, and some well designed computer graphical representations of different strikes.
On top of that, the show also manages to deliver a lot of great travelogue footage, showing off the beautiful scenery of the different countries to which they travel. Those of us who have never been to foreign lands such as Greece or South Korea will no doubt be more impressed than the world travelers out there but the crew behind this series at least took the time and cared enough to show off a bit of each country as they travel there. The focus is very definitely on the martial arts themselves, but some pretty cinematography and a quick look around each country helps round out the series quite nicely.
Now, none of this would matter much if the hosts sucked, right? Thankfully both Jason Chambers and Bill Duff are genuinely likeable guys. They're very down to Earth and not particularly full of themselves the way some competitive athletes can be. Here they seem to be learning just as we are, though obviously they enter the series with a bit more knowledge beforehand than the audience does. They have a good rapport together, and periodic moments of good natured humor make them easy to like. They're quite well casts and just the right sort of guys to host a series like this. The end result is a pretty enjoyable show that entertains first and foremost but educates almost as well. You could probably pick apart any one episode you wanted if you were an expert in whatever particular style they might be covering - after all, covering what is often hundreds if not thousands of years of tradition in a forty-five minute episode means you have to leave something out - but overall, this is pretty good stuff.
Human Weapon - The Complete Series is presented in AVC encoded 1.78.1 widescreen and it looks pretty good for the most part, though it's not on the same level as the latest and greatest feature film. The computer generated graphics sequences are nice and clean and colorful while the travelogue footage is frequently impressive. The series was shot digitally so there are no issues with dirt or debris to note. The contest looks to be quite well encoded, showing only minor compression artifacts in some spots. There aren't any edge enhancement issues, only some slight ringing in a few scenes. Skin tones look nice and natural and detail is generally good - not reference quality, but good - particularly in close up shots.
The only audio option offered is an English language DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track, there are no subtitles or alternate language options provided. The quality of the mix is pretty decent, with some good left to right channel separation throughout. Dialogue is easy to understand and follow and there are no problems at all to report with any hiss or distortion. Bass and the lower end of the mix has some nice oomph to it and the narration is easy to understand overtop of the sound effects and music used throughout the series.
The third disc contains the Passport To Pain episode, which is a forty five minute travelogue that takes the guys all over the place and showcases some of the toughing fighting and training that they endure in the first season. This episode did air on TV when the series was still going so it's not technically bonus material, it's part of the regular season, but since it's a compilation rather than a look at one specific style, it fits better in the supplements section than with the rest of the shows. Aside from that, look for static menus and episode selection, that's it. No interviews, deleted scenes or commentary tracks are provided, and this is a series that definitely would have benefited from the inclusion of material like that.
Human Weapon is a series that wasn't likely to last forever - there are, after all, only so many martial arts to investigate - but it could have lasted longer than it did. The show is an interesting one, giving viewers a nice mix of edutainment and action mixed in with some often beautiful travelogue footage. A good blend of smarts and brawls, it's an interesting and entertaining series that looks and sounds decent enough on Blu-ray, even if it doesn't ever reach the levels of the best that the format has to offer. The lack of extra content is a strike against the set, but otherwise, this is a solid effort from The History Channel and comes recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.