Now that we're well into the 2000s, enough time has passed that a look back at the tumultuous decade of the 1980s can offer both some perspective and a useful history lesson on relatively recent events that viewers may either have forgotten about, or have been too young to appreciate. History of the 80s, originally made by ABC News in 1991, offers a briskly paced tour of these ten years.
Each episode covers one year, and presents the events of that year in chronological order. Events that unfold over time, such as the Iran hostage crisis, are interwoven with other events of that year (or years), which helps to give a sense of perspective on what was happening, and how it affected the political and social climate of the U.S.
The episodes are entirely composed of footage from television news broadcasts (and the occasional film clip) of the day, so we're really seeing things just as they were presented at the time. Fortunately, it's more than just a collage of media clips: the voiceover narrator does a respectable job of explaining what's happening and why, offering some perspective on events as well.
To be entirely correct, the title of History of the 80s should really be "History of the U.S. during the 80s, with a few important events in other countries thrown in as an afterthought." While the programs do cover worldwide topics, it tends to be from the perspective of the U.S. getting involved or being affected, though not always. There's nothing inherently wrong with the U.S.-centric approach, particularly since the program manages to be fairly objective about its material, but it's certainly not the global perspective that the initial presentation (complete with a background image of the Earth seen from space) would suggest.
It would be difficult to give a detailed description of all the topics that are covered in History of the 80s, since each episode (running approximately 50 minutes) moves swiftly through a variety of different events in politics, international relations, entertainment, sports, technology, and culture. A sampling of these topics would include the Carter/Reagan presidential election, the development of PCs and VCRs, the Polish Solidarity movement, the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, the Iran-Iraq war, AIDS, the Challenger disaster, homelessness in the U.S., the market crash in 1987, Gorbachev's policies, and the fall of the Berlin Wall.
History of the 80s is a three-DVD set, packaged in a double-wide plastic keepcase. Each year is a separate episode, with 1980-82 on Disc 1, 1983-85 on Disc 2, and 1986-1989 on Disc 3.
The image quality for History of the 80s is reasonably good: after all, the material is all taken from broadcast television, not film. There's the general softness and blurriness that comes from the limitations of the source material, but apart from that, the transfer is clean, bright, and presentable. The episodes are presented in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio.
Like the image quality, the soundtrack is in large part limited by the nature of the source material: the sound on the broadcast TV footage is sometimes muffled or distorted. Fortunately, the main portion of the soundtrack features a voiceover narrator, who comes across clearly and cleanly.
There are no special features on this set.
While History of the 80s doesn't pretend to offer an in-depth look at any of its topics, it does what it sets out to do quite well, offering an interesting and informative guided tour of the 1980s. It's a program that will be interesting both to those who lived through the 1980s as an adult, and to those who were too young to know anything about these events as they unfolded. Recommended.