"History" chooses to repackage another previously available title under the banner of their "Instant Expert" line. This time "Instant Expert: The Mayflower," is a re-release of the previously available "Desperate Crossing: The Untold Story of the Mayflower." Unfortunately this type of shifty marketing is the same type I've complained about for a few select "Instant Expert" releases. The series, primarily aimed at educators should be more upfront on what the disc truly is, so educators who are often strapped for funding, don't wind up with a duplicate program in a new package. More troubling though, is this entry in the series isn't a particularly well made program to begin with.
Nine times out of 10, any "History" production runs around 90 minutes and relies heavily on a narrator linking events and major facts, with historians being brought in to expand on stories or provide educated conjecture. Period dramatizations are utilized in the same way montages of stock footage (when available) or photos are set under standard narration. These sequences are without dialogue and judging from the experiment "History" has tried here, mute with good cause. Running nearly two and a half hours, "Desperate Crossing" is part standard documentary, part docudrama, with the latter derailing the entire program with a less than cinematic approach to filming and general overacting.
To the docudrama portion's credit, production values are high with a strong emphasis on period clothing, props, and a very noble attempt at convincing sets. However, the filming is very flat, with lighting duties appearing to have been paid any attention only half the time. Likewise, the camera work is pedestrian at best, leaving the actors, who are comparable to those you would find in local community theater, to carry the story. Lines are read with overemphasis and no emphasis equally, it's tough to watch. Every time the program abandoned the standard documentary approach and shifted to one of these sequences, my interest immediately waned. When the docudrama footage is used as background to the narrator, it feels more like a standard passable production. However, the docudrama is a major selling point of the program and "History" runs it into the ground several times over, ensuring they get their moneys worth and put the costumes and set to use.
The standard documentary approach is much more tolerable, but even then, not as engaging as other "History" productions. The overall intent and focus is muddled, with emphasis being applied and pulled liberally from hard facts, willy nilly, and historian conjecture popping up to expand on various non-sequiturs. At 90 minutes, I'd likely be more forgiving, but alas, the 135-minute runtime drags for almost every second. I can't imagine the program serving any use in a classroom, where attention spans often wane after 15 minutes. "History" doesn't do an adequate job of keeping any viewer interested in the subject matter, and that's a real shame, considering this is a major point in the history of America. Perhaps with a tighter "script" and some generous editing, this could have been transformed into a passable program.
Lastly, I can't speak for historical fact, but the entire story presented reeks of heavy sanitization. Despite these being real people responsible for real events, everyone involved and mentioned end up coming across as shallow characters. Intentions are discussed, but no one figure is memorable, in fact, I can't recall a single "character," the settlers are that thinly portrayed and interchangeable. The portrayal of the Native Americans additionally feels extremely restrained with the people behind the program fearing to portray anyone involved in a negative light, aside Monarchy. All in all, "The Mayflower" doesn't do history any justice.
The 1.78:1 non-anamorphic widescreen transfer is an obviously interlaced transfer, mixing live-action docudrama that generally has a lightly hazy look. Colors are intensely dark at times, with heavy emphasis on earthen tones. Contrast is nothing special, often hiding any possible detail.
The English 2.0 audio track is a bit flat for a partial docudrama. Dialogue is flat and in fact the narration and historian segments sound more lifelike. The supporting score is also underplayed, although at times is little heavy on the low-end.
A text educators supplement is included as well as a 10-question review quiz on the disc itself.
A dull and overly long look at the settlers of the New World, "Instant Expert: The Mayflower" is criminal in its trivializing of history and "History" is guilty of being misleading regarding the contents of the disc. I'm quite certain there are better documentaries that tackle the same subject and do it with greater proficiency, if not, I'd stick with a good book. Skip It.