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 second 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, this 1080p transfer of History of the World in Two Hours only looks average for a high definition effort. Since this documentary is a collage of live action and CGI sequences, the source material tends to vary in quality; as it stands, only a few portions manage to be impressive. Onscreen graphics and most of the CGI effects are crisp, bright and exhibit a strong amount of detail. Other scenes showcase a noticeable amount of digital noise and occasional interlacing, however, and the film's color palette often tends to bleed on the warm side. There's also an odd compression-like appearance on some of the CGI water surfaces, but it's hard to tell if that's just a stylistic choice. Newly-recorded interviews look good but not exceptional. Overall, this Blu-Ray release still represents a modest step up from the DVD, but it's hardly anything to get excited about.
The audio fares slightly better, as the included DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track exhibits many strengths and no apparent weaknesses. Channel separation is noticeable and there are plenty of times when rear effects and LFE are employed. Dialogue is crisp and clear, whether it's part of reenacted live action sequences or the film's authoritative narration. Overall, a strong effort that fans should definitely enjoy. Optional English, Spanish, German, Dutch and Polish subtitles are included during the main feature.
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 a dozen chapters, no layer change was detected and this Blu-Ray has been locked for Region A players only. It's housed in a standard 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 moves at a steady pace. 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 DVD is also available at a similar price point, although neither version particularly excels in the visual department. Overall, History of the World in Two Hours is a perfectly watchable effort, albeit one you don't necessarily need to own. Rent It first.
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.