Noted Egyptologist John Romer took viewers on a fantastic journey through Egypt's past and present in "Ancient Lives" in 1984. Four years later, Romer brought viewers along for another adventure through history. This time the subject was one that could have easily ended in controversy, the Bible. Coinciding with a book of the same title, "Testament" asks you to strap in for a six-hour journey spanning seven engaging episodes and a history in time numbering many, many centuries. What's the icing on the cake? One doesn't need to be religious to enjoy the miniseries or to walk away having learned something tangible.
"Testament" may take viewers on a journey through locations key to various stories in the Bible and events in biblical history, but make no mistake, this is not "Charlton Heston Presents: The Bible." John Romer isn't here to recite stories from any of the many versions of the holy text, he has a major goal in mind: get the history behind the stories. At its core, "Testament" is a fantastic archaeology documentary. Romer quite frequently takes us in the field to show support for many biblical events, but often, he doesn't stop there. He explains, with great zeal, how the people lived. Their customs, their governments, their feuds, it all becomes a more clear portrait of different, ancient civilizations.
The Bible itself is shown to evolve just like civilization over the course of the series. Romer discusses the evolution of the written word, addressing controversies such as a lack of historical record for the enslavement of the Israelites; this isn't meant to cheapen the impact of the Bible though, it is merely another reminder of how it is a book of faith. The hard evidence presented by Romer lends credence to differing versions of the Bible in ancient time, which is not far removed from differing, more modern interpretations. Interweaved amidst all this history, we get more nuggets of information telling and showing us how the Bible influenced new civilizations and how, as society became more technologically advanced, the written word became more mainstreamed.
Romer, himself is a great asset to the series. A consummate professional, he comes off as a clear, accessible, and unbiased presenter. His handling of such sensitive subject matter is remarkable and the balance he strikes between respecting the idea of faith while showing the importance of historical fact is splendid. Towards the end of the series he addresses the Oxford evolution debate and, much to my surprise silently admonishes those who claim Darwin proved the Bible useless. He presents a fair case for the importance of both views and how it is shortsighted to disregard either; the Bible is too important to social history to be disregarded.
"Testament" is a filling and exhausting experience; the six hours may go by quickly, but there is a wealth to be mined. After only one viewing, I know I've learned a great deal, but not nearly all Romer has to offer. In the end, your faith doesn't matter, there is something for everyone to gain from this program. To paraphrase Romer's own words, it doesn't matter if you believe in the Bible and it's stories, there is historical record of the people in the book and it's ultimate influence on many aspects of society is unarguable. It is a piece of the puzzle that defines many cultures.
The 1.33:1 aspect ratio transfer preserves the original television screening aspect ratio. For a 22-year-old documentary shot on video it looks passable, but is a long way from being visually stunning. Athena being the upstanding company I've come to know them as, does have a disclaimer printed on the outer case of the set, saying any flaws that remained where out of their ability to fix. The transfer sports noticeable digital noise, the occasional appearance of microphony banding and the colors levels are on the pale side. It does undersell the magnificence of the sights Romer introduces viewers to, and the occasional wobble of the image can be annoying.
The English stereo audio track is in much better shape, with Romer's in-studio narration and on-location dialogue both coming through clear and well mixed. While the on-location footage does pick up background noise, it's never detracts from Romer. It is worth noting that the background music is overall, a flat sounding experience. English subtitles for the hearing impaired are included.
Each disc in the set contains a sole bonus feature titled, "Bearers of the Word." It's essentially a very brief collection of background info for important players in Bible history in text form. The substance of the extras comes in the always-appreciated text booklet. There's a nice summary of key points from each episode, along with supplemental information regarding different versions of the bible and a short written piece from Romer himself pertaining to the production of the series.
John Romer's "Testament" is a fantastic documentary series. It strikes the perfect balance between faith and science, never stepping on the toes of either. Technical limitations of the series and this set aside, it's a worthy addition to any documentary collection. Highly Recommended.