The first season of How the Earth Was Made was a breath of fresh air. It may not have been as interesting a series as History's The Universe, but let's be honest here - The subject material being covered for this particular show doesn't help. Something about the Earth versus the unknown mysteries of the universe just isn't as fascinating. I guess that makes sense. After all, it's easy to take the world we live in for granted. The end result of millions and even billions of years can be seen by us every single day by the naked eye, just by looking out our very window. The universe on the other hand? It still holds an infinite amount of mystery and intrigue, and not just because of the unknown, but because of what it means to our future as a species. The future has always been a much more interesting prospect for mankind. The Earth just doesn't hold that same appeal - We're here, we can see it, we can feel it, we can breathe it. No mystery there, right? Wrong. Once given a chance, the history of our planet can be fascinating... as long as someone can put it all into a context that's actually entertaining. That's where History HD comes in. The end result can still bore from time to time, but it's a whole lot better than the crap we were forced to watch in high school. The only real question about this second season is, did the show do what History's The Universe did, and expel most of its interesting topics in the first season?
In short, the answer is no. There are still plenty of topics for How the Earth Was Made to explore, but unfortunately, the second season missed a golden opportunity to expand to other parts of the globe. Just as in season one, a good chunk of the episodes focus on much of the geological greatness the United States has to offer. On one hand, it's certainly fascinating enough to see how the Grand Canyon, the Rockies, Yosemite, Death Valley, and Mount Saint Helens had been formed, but come on. How about the rest of the world? Don't get me wrong, as a resident of the United States, I certainly understand the beauty and the inspiring history that it has, but for my time spent in front of the television, I'd much rather see the geologic splendor from around the rest of the world. I can spend a modest amount of money to vacation to a bunch of the spots mentioned in the United States, and I'd get quite the history lesson while I visited those spots, too. Traveling around the globe to see other such wonders isn't a feasible reality for myself, and many other Americans that watch this show, so wouldn't those be the more interesting places to explore? I guess History HD is just playing it safe by providing the history of the places that we'd know, and I guess I can't really fault them for that. Perhaps when they get around to airing a third season, I'll get more of what I'm hoping to see.
That being said, despite not taking a chance to explore the formation of other parts of the world, the second season still covers a lot of interesting ground regardless. Here's a rundown of the episodes that are included in this set:
-The Grand Canyon
-Birth of the Earth
-The Ring of Fire
-Mount St. Helens
-Earth's Deadliest Eruption
-America's Ice Age
For me, the most interesting episode, hands down, is Birth of the Earth. Considering the name of the show, I scratch my head over the logic of not including this in the first season, but at least they finally got around to getting down to 'the beginning'. The series has a tendency to continually inform us of the inherent dangers that comes with living on the planet Earth, so it's nice to hear about the 'birth' of something rather than the extinction of the human race via volcanic eruptions... but, oops! There's plenty of chatter about that in the second season as well. The first season did a great job of balancing the positive with the negative, but the second season tends to make things a bit more 'dramatic' than informative. I guess you have to go wherever the ratings take you, but there's a fine line between responsibly informing people of what's likely to happen to the human race in the future, and using scare tactics to make such an apocalyptic event more 'entertaining'. This time around, they took the latter route, throwing no caution to the wind when it came to presenting that fine balance.
All in all, if you enjoyed the first season, there's no reason why the second season should seem like a chore. Despite the minor complaint I've registered above, the topics at hand are presented with great care. It shouldn't matter if you're a science geek that loves everything to do with geology, or if you're an average Joe that has their curiosity peeked enough to learn everything there is to know about the Earth. Either way, the subject matter is easy to take in, and done in an entertaining enough fashion to satisfy everyone. I hate to continually compare this show to History's The Universe, but if you're a fan of that particular series, How the Earth Was Made isn't as enthralling, but it comes close enough, especially considering the material it has to cover on an episode-by-episode basis. If you already had a chance to check out some of the first season and know what to expect, this is pretty much 'more of the same' in the way of presentation, which if you're a fan, isn't a bad thing.
This 1080i AVC encoded transfer (1.78:1) certainly isn't bad, but it isn't exactly impressive, either. That's not to say there's any intrusive digital anomalies due to over-processing or compression issues, it's just that the source footage by nature can be wildly inconsistent. There's plenty of archival clips that look excessively dull and grainy, although to be fair, there's also plenty of stock footage that looks pretty darn good in HD. The best this set has to offer of course comes from the footage that was specifically shot for How the Earth Was Made. There's plenty of gorgeous HD imagery of some of the most fascinating places on Earth (from a geological standpoint, of course), and the interview segments are also highly detailed. The computer simulations also look great in HD. Color is saturated very well, skin tones are accurate during interviews, black levels are as faithful as the original source allows it to be, and sharpness in the newly filmed footage looks natural. Anyone who is familiar with this series on History HD should have no complaints about how this set looks, because although it's not the prettiest thing around, it's certainly an accurate representation of how this show looked when it originally aired.
I've always wondered when The History Channel were going to pony up the dough to mix us some surround sound, but I guess the second season of How the Earth Was Made just wasn't deserving enough. To be fair though, there's a lot of interview segments, and pretty much all of the action you see on-screen is taking place in front of the camera. So, perhaps utilizing the surround channels wouldn't have benefited this show to begin with. However, that's not to say that the provided 2.0 track doesn't sound good... because it does, especially since it's a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track. Dialogue is always crisp and clear, sound effects sweep across the soundstage to the best of a 2.0 track's ability, and the dynamic range is pretty impressive for such a series as well. Would it have been nice to have a surround track on this set? Sure. However, once again, this is a faithful representation of how the show sounded during its initial run on television... if not better. Fans of the series who know what to expect shouldn't be disappointed.
Unfortunately, there are no extras on either of the three discs.
Unlike History's groundbreaking series, The Universe, How the Earth Was Made didn't seem to exhaust all of its worthwhile topics in the first season. The Complete Season 2 covers a lot of exciting topics, such as the deadliest eruption the planet has ever seen, the ice age, and most importantly, the birth of Earth. Some of the episodes feel like they're pushing the doomsday aspect a little harder than they did in the first season, but that's really my only minor complaint about this season as a whole. Overall I'd say the first season was a tad more interesting, but this set is definitely a worthy follow up. It's too bad that once again, History didn't opt to use surround sound, and it's even more disappointing to see they didn't include any kind of supplemental package. Regardless, it's the episodes themselves that matter the most, and based on the 13 on this set, I can confidently say this release comes recommended.