Casual fans love highlight reels. I stopped following professional sports years ago, but I can't resist a weekly Top 10 countdown of great plays or end-of-the-year memorable moments. The History Channel's History of the World in Two Hours (2011) takes that idea and multiplies it several hundred times over, condensing 13,700,000,000 years into just 120 minutes...or 88 minutes, without those pesky commercial breaks. It's an ambitious and novel idea in theory...and the finished product is on par with some of the better highlight reels out there, delivering copious amounts of quality at a breakneck pace.
Granted, this isn't a big-budget production, so the majority of CGI on display here won't blow you away. At worst, it can be almost painfully distracting. But History of the World in Two Hours makes up for this with rapid-fire editing and clean, concise narration...so even if some of the visuals don't float your boat, at least they don't stick out for too long. From the Big Bang to the Iron Age, from violent combinations of matter and energy to the first appearances of grass, this "Cliff's Notes for the Universe" covers plenty of ground during its brisk running time, and only mild amounts of repetition (bookends between commercial breaks, for the most part) threaten to break its momentum. Everything is laid out quite clearly in layman's terms, though younger audiences may have trouble keeping up at times.
Perhaps the documentary's only real fault is a direct result of its gimmick: it simply doesn't spend a lot of time on any one subject, which makes certain segments bleed together. This is easily forgivable, but the more flexible format of home video could've easily made the problem less noticeable. I'd imagine the final product was trimmed a great deal, and the abbreviated 88-minute running time may irk those expecting...well, a two-hour history lesson. Given the documentary's incredible ability to condense information, another 32 minutes would've made a good thing even better. Either way, The History Channel presents History of the World in Two Hours on DVD and Blu-Ray; today's review covers the first option, which pairs a decent technical presentation with...nothing else, unfortunately.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio and enhanced for 16x9 displays, History of the World in Two Hours looks good within the confines of SD. Though most of the footage here is fairly basec CGI, colors are vivid and black levels remain solid. No outstanding digital problems could be spotted along the way, aside from minor jagged edges, digital noise and a few compression artifacts during foggy sequences. The separate high-def releases undoubtedly offer a boost in clarity and texture, though I'd imagine they also reveal additional weaknesses. Either way, this is a solid presentation but not remarkable.
The audio is a bit more consistent, and we're given a choice of Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround or 2.0 Stereo mixes. Both get the job done, offering crisp dialogue and good channel separation, though the former obviously presents a more dynamic and immersive soundstage. Some of the rear channel activity feels a bit overcooked, but it's tough to complain overall. LFE is notable at times but not overpowering. Optional English and Spanish captions (not "subtitles", as the packaging suggests) are also included.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen above, the menu designs are simply designed and easy to navigate. This 88-minute main feature is divided into just over a dozen chapters, no layer change was detected and this DVD is locked for Region 1 players only. It's housed in a standard black keepcase and includes no inserts of any kind.
Nothing, not even any promos. This isn't exactly a "bang for the buck" release, but at least the main feature speaks for itself. I can't imagine there weren't any deleted scenes available, though.
History of the World in Two Hours offers a compact, entertaining history lesson...and for the most part, it's accessible and flows nicely. The film's condensed, commercial-free running time may irritate those looking for a full 120-minute show, and it's a shame more detail couldn't have been added to spice up this home video release. An optional Blu-Ray (and Blu-Ray 3D) version is also available at a higher price point, but this DVD already seems a bit skimpy for the asking price. Overall, History of the World in Two Hours is a perfectly watchable effort, albeit one you don't necessarily need to own. Rent It.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance design projects, teaches art classes and runs a website or two in his spare time. Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD-DVDs and writing stuff in third person.