"History" continues its "Instant Expert" line with a look at one of America's favorite founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin. Unlike some entries in the "Instant Expert Series," this appears to be a standalone program from 2004, simply titled, "Benjamin Franklin" and not merely an episode ripped from a larger series. As an educator, it's the type of program I would want to find on this line of DVDs. It focuses on one single subject, in this case Ben Franklin, and feels like a solid tool for introducing the man to viewers of any age.
Mixing the classic documentary style of narration, expert commentary, and dramatic recreation, "Benjamin Franklin," packs it's 94-minute runtime with an excellent overview of the man who graces the one-hundred dollar bill. Beginning with Franklin's early life, it wasn't long that one of many interesting facts regarding Franklin's genius was dropped. Shunned by his brother, Franklin dupes him by writing letters under the guise of an older, widowed woman. While in the long run, such an anecdote isn't vital to a student's understanding of Franklin's importance, it helps humanize the man, turning him from an abstract figure in history to a living and breathing person who struggled with finding acceptance just like anyone else.
The tone of the program is a good balance of serious fact, but every so often the narrator slips in a fun one-liner, including a reference to Franklin being a handsome ladies man in his early years. The reenactment scenes further draw viewers into Franklin's life, silently portraying what is being discussed by narrator and/or scholar. The largely academic approach to presenting Franklin's life is much appreciated, with little to no editorializing that can plague other "History" releases. If there is one complaint, it's that many key events in Franklin's life only get mentioned, as the comprehensive approach to his life doesn't allow much time to be spent in one place. On the other hand, this means interested viewers will likely be inspired to learn more on their own.
"Benjamin Franklin" does cover all the familiar ground you likely already know about the man; his work with electricity, his inventions, and key role in the Declaration of Independence. It's all here and the filmmakers to a good job of trying to relay at least one new fact for every familiar story or subject. A fine example is the discussion of Franklin's hands-on editing of the Declaration of Independence, crossing out the writing of Thomas Jefferson and bringing in some of the more iconic statements like "we hold these truths to be self-evident." I did find myself at times, feeling ashamed, I knew the whole story, when in fact, there was much yet to learn.
"Benjamin Franklin" is a very solid entry in the "Instant Expert" line, an engaging, insightful standalone piece that appeals to not only students but your average history buff and those merely looking to learn a little more about an important figure in the history of America. It's not the definitive feature on Franklin, but definitely sits high upon the list.
The 1.78:1 non-anamorphic widescreen transfer is quite consistent in contrast and color balance. Consisting of natural colors for present day segments and slightly sepia looking tinted choices for the reenactments of Franklin's life. Detail is above average and for a 2004 production, it stands as one of the better-looking History Channel productions.
The English 2.0 audio track features a rich supporting score and well-balanced narration free of distortion. For a pure documentary, this audio track is more than sufficient.
A text educators supplement is included as well as a 10-question review quiz on the disc itself.
A shining example of what an "Instant Expert" disc should be. "Benjamin Franklin" like "Oil" is a must own entry for any instructor and wouldn't be out of place on the shelf of the average home viewer. Recommended.