The History Channel is no stranger when it comes to top-notch educational television series. The most successful show they've probably had is The Universe, a show that's comprised of real footage and computer generated simulations, as well as plenty of narration and expert interviews to wrap everything in a nice contextual bow. The imagery on display was fascinating enough to keep your eyes glued to the screen, and the experts presented the facts in a way that everyone could understand, yet it wasn't dumbed down enough to make science fans at home feel like they were wasting their time with any particular episode. The History Channel must have figured that if something isn't broke, it doesn't require fixin', because the subject matter on How the Earth Was Made has been constructed with the same basic formula that made their other popular series so entertaining. That's really saying a lot, considering the fact that geology is seemingly considered by many to be a topic that's only useful for curing a bad case of insomnia. After all, you don't really see the effects of geology in motion, unless of course you've been in an earthquake or witnessed a volcanic eruption. No, for the most part, the interesting aspects of geology are the monuments across the globe that have been in the making for millions of years, and breaking down any specific landmark in only an hour can be just as monumental a task... but How the Earth Was Made is able to deliver its stories of such a span with ease.
I'm not going to insult your intelligence by going on and on about what's contained within this three disc set. The name of the series itself - How the Earth Was Made - is pretty self evident. So I'll spare you the specifics and note that each episode will discuss the formation of famous lakes (Loch Ness and the Great Lakes, for example), peaks and underwater valleys, land by way of volcanic eruptions, and more. The 13 topical episodes in this three disc set are as follows:
-San Andreas Fault
-The Deepest Place on Earth
-Driest Place on Earth
What I do find to be noteworthy for the purpose of this review however, is the fact that How the Earth Was Made doesn't stop at just explaining how the world as we know it today came to be... it also uses the history of our planet to warn us of inevitable events that will alter the future of the human race. The San Andreas fault is overdue for an earthquake of biblical proportions, and volcanic eruptions from Anak Krakatau and even Yellowstone threaten to blanket a good percentage of the globe in ash... and that's not even counting the iced-over volcanoes that are slowly being uncovered due to 'global warming'. There are so many frighteningly destructive forces on the Earth, that thriving as a species on this big ball of blue and green almost seems like a futile experiment... but unfortunately, we have to worry about factors from outside the planet as well, such as asteroids. That's not to say that the series places its primary focus on the 'doom and gloom' side of things though, because it doesn't. The show never really goes into 'preach mode', as everything that's predicted about the future of our planet is relevant to any given topic at hand. Geological changes across the globe are a constant, and although some of them take place over millions and millions of years, others, unfortunately for us, can happen at the blink of an eye. For this show not to acknowledge the grim prospects of our future would have been irresponsible at best, but fortunately, How the Earth Was Made presents its predictions in a factual manner than doesn't dredge up a sense of fear or panic.
After all is said and done, How the Earth Was Made is a breath of fresh air. In high school, I was consistently forced to watch edutainment videos on the subject of geology. You know the ones, right? Where some passionless shlub sounds like he's merely reading a textbook over a montage of aerial shots? Ever since, I thought learning about geology had to be an epic bore by its very nature. However, The History Channel has once again proven with this series that the face of educational video can be changed... that dry subject matter can be put into a package that's both entertaining and easy to understand. This was the first time I was truly able to sit down and watch this show properly, but I can't tell you how many times I've been flipping through the channels at home, only to stop on this program because I was so intrigued by the visuals and informative interviews. Personally, I still favor History's The Universe, but that's only because I find that subject to be more interesting. That being said, How the Earth Was Made in its first season is solid from start to finish, and anyone who's curious about Earth's history, or its future for that matter, should make it a point to sit down and watch it.
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 first 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.
Were you ever bored to tears watching those awful high school edutainment videos about geology? Did you vow to never watch another science related program on television ever again? Well, since The History Channel is consistently delivering educational television in easy to understand, entertaining packages, I'd strongly recommend you consider breaking that vow. How the Earth Was Made - The Complete First Season is a testament as to how science always should have been presented on television - With interviews from experts that don't sound like they hate their job, providing highly detailed simulations to illustrate each point, and conveying the facts in a way that isn't overwhelming. If I wasn't sold on The History Channel's capabilities based on The Universe series (which I was), then How the Earth Was Made proves that they know what they're doing and can be counted on to consistently deliver the goods in the future. That being said, this release is sorely missing even a single piece of supplemental material, and the inconsistent video footage (again, not a result of the transfer itself) keeps this from being a highly recommended release (despite the fact the content on each episode is deserving of such). For anyone that's a science geek or just a casual television fan that's had their curiosity peaked, I recommend this set to you.