"Planet Egypt" comes as a familiar offering from the History Channel despite their proclivities towards focusing on more "reality" based television as of late. Purportedly airing on their secondary network, "H2," "Planet Egypt" is a four-episode series that attempts to concisely convey key events in the history of the ancient Egyptian empire to viewers through "cutting edge technology." Anyone who turned on a history themed program on the network in the past half-decade or more is going to be immediately familiar with the approach to the simultaneous education and entertainment of the viewer, in short "Planet Egypt" is a return to form for History's shaky documentary offerings.
The program is half incredibly effective and half tired and played out, with the former occupying the first two episodes, which deal with Narmer, a figure some historians believe to have been the first Pharaoh. For most (including myself), one has a very clear idea of what Egypt was, and "Planet Egypt's" approach to going back before familiar images and events is an enlightening experience, giving context to the ultimate empire Egypt became. The second episode does more of the same chronicling a decades long war and the pivotal role Thutmose III played in key battles. As the episode closes, the seeds of that familiar image of Egypt begin to sprout, leading to the final two episodes that focus on Amenhotep III's key change in the idea of what a Pharaoh was; the basic gist centers around the shift from a mortal figure to a god. Finally, the series closes on Ramses the Great and touches on many familiar Egyptian traditions and ideals.
"Planet Egypt" is without a doubt another History channel offering that teases those with a thirst for knowledge with a fancy beverage that is more flavor than nourishment, resorting to slapping a standard narrative track over flashy historical recreations that are on some level technically sound for a television program, but do little but hold the attention of the most distracted of viewers; CGI is also shamelessly utilized to show viewers historical artifacts that exist in excellent condition. At one point an artifact is recreated in CG and given a close-up for viewers to observe, only for the program to cut to a partial shot of the actual artifact, a frustrating and stupid decision on the part of the creators and a strong sign indicating the program is more concerned about flash than fact. As expected, segments are broken up by expert interviews in a studio and in the field, but these sequences are the minority. "Planet Egypt" is a merely average program and it's early episodes do warrant a viewing, but there's nothing substantial enough to make it an essential piece in any history buff's collection.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer ranges from average to slightly above average with the recreation scenes having a very soft look to them with detail somewhat on the low-end and a distinctly earthen, mildly stylized color palette. Interview and "in-the-field" sequences fare a bit better, with colors a tad on the warm side. Compression artifacts are noticeable but never distracting.
The English 2.0 audio track is decidedly balanced towards the imposing narration, with effects and score feeling like an afterthought; interview subjects sound a bit distant and flat. English and Spanish subtitles are included.
While the first two episodes of "Planet Egypt" do shed some light on the early history of the civilization, the flashy, eventually annoying presentation does nothing to supplement a program that is, on a whole level, an anemic package. Rent It.