For every documentary that delves deep into a fascinating topic and
brings interesting facts to light for the viewer, there's another
that seems to wander off and get lost. Celts: Rich Traditions and
Ancient Myths is one of the latter: a program with a great topic
and lots of potential that squanders that potential in
disorganization and a shallow treatment of the topic.
With six 52-minute episodes to cover the topic of "the Celts,"
this documentary certainly has plenty of time to get a grip on its
material. In general, I suppose we could say that Celts is an
examination of the rich cultural heritage of the Celtic peoples, from
their Indo-European origins all the way to the present day in areas
like Ireland and Wales. The episodes (and their topics) are, in
order, "The Man with the Golden Shoes" (Celtic origins),
"The Birth of Nations" (more on Celtic origins), "A
Pagan Trinity" (religion), "The Open-Ended Curve"
(art), "The Final Conflict" (language preservation), and
"The Legacy" (Celtic influences). But although the topics
can be summarized concisely, that's not to say that the episodes are
well focused... far from it.
The main fault here (and it's a major one) is the abysmal
organization of the program. It's never clear where any given episode
is going; each one seems like a random assortment of facts, short
interviews with various experts, and historical re-enactments that
take place with little context. Without knowing what the connecting
thread is among all these elements, it's very difficult to stay
interested or to make any real sense out of it. The first episode is
a prime example. To begin with, it has the baffling title "The
Man with the Golden Shoes," which we eventually find out refers
to a Celtic burial... not that that has anything to do with the
overall content of the episode, which is roughly the early origins
and expansion of the Celts. Within the episode, we hop from one
archaeological site to another without any context or clear
organization (either chronological or geographical). We spend a
bafflingly long time watching the autopsy of an ancient body found in
a peat bog, but this section is never connected to the overall
material; later, we'll hop over to another burial and see more random
grave goods, then discuss the Roman battles against the Celts. Where
is all this going? Nowhere especially interesting, I can assure you.
The other episodes are sadly very similar in their lack of
organization. One of the consequences of this is that it's difficult
to get a sense of either chronology or geography for the events that
are discussed. Another consequence is that some of the material ends
up being repeated; for instance, the Roman-Celtic conflict is gone
over several times superficially.
Sadly, there ends up being very little of substance here even if you
can stomach the utter disorganization of the program. The constant
jumping around from place to place and time period to time period
makes it next to impossible to sustain a coherent explanation about
anything. Adding to the "puffed out" flavor of the program
are the "cute" scenes with the narrator in a modern-day
setting that is apparently intended to draw a connection between
modern and ancient times, such as him at a typewriter when he's
discussing messages being sent between rulers. These little scenes
fall flat, seeming silly and pointless rather than informative.
Celts: Rich Traditions and Ancient Myths also seems aimed at
an audience with certain particular preconceptions about the Celts.
The narrator frequently takes a rather defensive tone about how the
Celts have been under-appreciated, or misunderstood, or stereotyped,
and he seems to take for granted that the audience will have
particular, incorrect assumptions about what the Celts were like.
Since I didn't know a whole lot about the Celts, but also didn't
share this mysterious set of prejudices either, it made for a rather
odd feeling, as if I weren't the intended audience for this program
at all. This approach wouldn't have been a problem if the program
itself were rich in content, but as it is, it's the final nail in the
coffin for Celts: Rich Traditions and Ancient Myths.
Celts: Rich Traditions and Ancient Myths is a two-DVD set;
however, I can't comment on the packaging as the studio only sent
This 1980s-era production has suffered the usual ravages of time and
hasn't been perked up (at least not noticeably) for its DVD transfer.
The image is faded, with colors looking rather gray and wan, and the
picture is very soft and blurry. Some print flaws also appear, and in
general the impression is of a worn and somewhat tired image, though
it's watchable. The program is presented in its original 1.33:1
The 2.0 soundtrack squeaks by with an average mark, mainly on the
strength of the lovely musical soundtrack by Enya. The narrator's
voice, and that of the various people interviewed, is usually
adequately clear, but at times it gets muffled. The sound also has a
tinny quality at times. The music, however, always sounds nice.
The musical soundtrack by Enya is by far the best part of Celts,
and the producers of the DVD seem to have realized this: nearly all
of the special features have to do with her and her music, rather
than the content of the documentary.
Disc 1 has two featurettes. The first,"Gaelic Weekend: A Musical
Journey Around Ireland," is a mysterious 30-minute piece that
follows an unnamed group of musicians around Ireland, combining music
with various scenic shots of the landscape and people. There's no
explanation of what this is, and no narrator. The second is a
four-minute interview with Enya.
Disc 2 has a 15-minute television clip on Celtic culture, "Nationwide
Celtic Connections 5." What this has to do with Celts: Rich
Traditions and Ancient Myths is unclear, except that it's on the
same topic. We also get a 17-minute featurette, "Val Doonican's
Enya Interview and Performance," which, as the title suggests,
is a combination of a short interview and footage of Enya singing.
We also get trailers for Building the Great Pyramid, Blue
Planet, and The Life of Mammals.
its interesting topic, Celts: Rich Traditions and Ancient Myths
falls flat, with disorganization and lack of solid content making
this documentary both uninformative and uninteresting. A lackluster
transfer means that it's not even particularly attractive to look at.
The only good part of the program is Enya's lovely music, but for
that, just get one of her CDs. Skip it; there are better
documentaries out there.