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Cities of the Underworld: The Complete Season 3 DVD SET
The History Channel would appear to be operated these days by a gang of disgruntled people who flunked high school history and are taking out their frustration by broadcasting shows based on urban legends, ancient myths, Hollywood films, and low-concept adventure. Notions of investigative or academic history have been almost totally abandoned. What's even more disturbing is their new logo, which abandons the original text "The History Channel" in favor of the briefer, and inappropriately definitive, "History."
Cities of the Underworld is a History Channel show that appears to be interested in the actualities of history, but really only cares about delivering the same kind of attention-grabbing speculations as programs about Nostradamus and the 2012 doomsday theory. I've already detailed many of the show's offenses against intelligence in my review of Cities of the Underworld: The Complete Season Two, from host Don Wildman's inane chatter to the show's habit of presenting myths and legends as undisputed fact.
Season Three finds the show delivering the same overhyped, semi-sensationalistic information in an ever-so-slightly more grounded way. Take this as faint praise, however. For the most part, the show remains a load of overproduced nonsense.
During Season Three, COTU visits London, Okinawa, Sicily, Las Vegas (a city that's less than 100 years old), Belgium (twice), Los Angeles, Rome, Ethiopia, San Francisco, Egypt, Turkey, and Sydney. In each locale, we explore the very oldest and most secret places that lie hidden beneath the surface of the earth. The variety of underground spaces ranges from the mundane to the truly fascinating. The trouble is that even the most interesting places are presented with cloudy, non-specific information that creates confusion rather than clarity regarding what actually happened there.
During a visit to a limestone mine outside London, we are led to believe we are going to see evidence of medieval witchcraft. What follows is a moderately interesting tour of a 600-year-old mine, and testimony from a "witchcraft expert" that some accidental-looking slashes on the walls were pagan symbols left by miners in the middle ages. For all we know, these markings could have been made by COTU's crew knocking equipment against the wall. Then we are shown digital images of much more interesting pagan symbols of the era - the slashes bear no resemblance to any of them.
I'm not going to bash (again) the excitable Don Wildman, his taupe Adventure Jacket™, or his habit of trying to crawl into spaces smaller than any human could reasonably fit, except to present a selection of his choicest quotations from Season Three.
- Picks up a skull, making archaeologists around the world cringe, and says, "This might have been a monk."
- Discussing Sicily: "This whole place is just ancient history layered onto each other."
- Speaking to the aforementioned witchcraft expert about paganism: "Witchcraft - what we now think of as an evil, uh, witches' brew and all that Hamlet stuff - this is not what we're talking about."
- Apropos of Jack the Ripper: "So I'm picturing this man carrying innards, organs of these women, down into the sewer, carrying them back to his base of operations."
Jack the Ripper may have escaped through the sewers, but most definitely did not have a SPECTRE-style "base of operations." But never mind. Wildman is expected to deal with things in only the most lurid, glorified way, and he understandably carries it off with the skill of someone who might rather be doing something else.
As in my previous review, I point the finger at the History Channel. People tend to gullible and suggestible, and they tend to believe what they see on TV. They don't do this because they are stupid, but because they believe that others know better than they do - a quality of humility, not idiocy. Television executives know this perfectly well and they exploit this knowledge with immoral regularity. Viewers beware: COTU is a misleading, anti-educational program.
A&E Home Video presents the 13 episodes of Season Three across four discs in slim keepcases housed inside of a card box. The presentation is serviceable, but not durable.
As with Season Two, a failure. The image is presented in a 1.78:1 non-anamorphic letterboxed transfer. Why A&E insists on presenting brand-new material this way is beyond me.
An unspectacular 2.0 stereo mix is provided. Again, the soundtrack is dominated by the ostentatious musical score, which runs the length of each episode, often muddying the accented English of Wildman's foreign guides to the point of incomprehensibility.
The only extra on this set is a collection of unused footage from several episodes, totaling about 30 minutes in length.
You would be wise to ignore this silly program and read a book on a similar topic. Skip it, with extreme prejudice.