How the Earth Changed History – Blu-ray Review

Most humans today probably think of mother nature as an afterthought. We really only care about ourselves, and tend to forget the gravity of our existence. We might think we rule the planet, but really the natural environment around us has shaped us in more ways than we can ever imagine. The same BBC crew that produced Earth: The Biography a few years ago hopes to open the eyes with their latest documentary series, How the Earth Changed History, which is once again narrated by Iain Stewart. This series supposedly tells the “untold story of history” by focusing on five specific aspects of geography and geology and explaining how it has had an impact and in turn influenced human evolution.

How the Earth Changed History follows the Scottish geologist as he goes to all parts of the Earth, from Iceland to Africa, China to South America and even a couple thousand below the surface. He does anything and everything to help us better understand how natural elements shaped where we live as well as determine which civilizations lived and died. The series mainly concentrates on the four elements: earth, air, fire and water. Then, by combining geology, natural history, and anthropology, Stewart details the strong correlation between environmental factors and the development of ancient societies. In addition, the series examines how humankind began to exploit the natural elements to help them ultimately survive.

How the Earth Changed History is broken up into five different hour long episodes, each with a focus on a different natural element. The “Water” episode concerns the way that water influenced the where and how civilization formed. The “Wind” episodes is mainly about the way that wind currents allowed for sailors to crisscross the Atlantic, and for subsequent trade routes. The “Deep Earth” episode focuses on the relationship humans have with earthquake fault lines, which provides previous minerals but also destroys life. The “Fire” episode is about how fire allowed humankind to work with metals and to create industries out of coal and oil. Finally, the “Human Planet” episode concludes everything by basically saying that once man gained control of the planet and its resources, the human era of tool making, farming, globalization, and environmental hazard began.

Any nature series these days shot in high-definition is going to look great. This is no exception. BBC camera crews know their way around an HD setup. One other thing that should be noted is host Iain Stewart. He does a good job of demonstrating how the powerful forces that have shaped the Earth have also highly influenced the evolution of human civilization. He never really sounds like a know-it-all, even with the tremendous amount information given in each episode. Some viewers might not like the fact that Stewart sometimes doesn’t always explain how the complex geological science works exactly, but by doing so he also allows this series to watched by a wider audience.

Once you realize what How the Earth Changed History is all about, you certainly will have a new perspective on things. This series is a fresh look at our planet and how it has both built and crushed civilizations throughout human history. Some things in this series are obvious when you think about it, and likely stuff you did learn in school. Still there is plenty of stuff that covered here that has never been talked about before. Anyone with an interest in anthropology or environmental history would definitely enjoy this series. But nature shows about natural forces will never be as popular as nature shows about animals. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth checking out, though.


Disc One:

Episode 1 – Water
This episode shows how early civilizations were drawn to the rivers and areas with vast underground water supplies, thus shaping strict cultural casts and rules.

Episode 2 – Deep Earth
This episode explores how people subconsciously migrated toward areas near fault lines, which contained rich deposits of minerals, thus influencing the areas where civilizations sprang up and their ultimate demise.

Episode 3 – Wind
This episode defines how the Earth’s wind patterns and jet streams led to trade routes, riches for some, colonization, wars, the beginnings of globalization, and eventually, the slave trade.

Disc Two:

Episode 4 – Fire
With the discovery of fire, humans were able to take control over their environments, clearing huge areas of land, farming, creating metal tools and money. Fire also created coal for fuel and industrialization.

Episode 5 – The Human Planet
Finally, with man in control of his planet and resources, the human era of tool making, farming, globalization, and environmental hazard is born.

The video included is available in the MPEG-AVC encoded image at the 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The quality is great, but not the best looking nature documentary series ever. There is certain parts of the series that look better than others. Still no major problems here, though.

The audio included is available in either English DTS-HD 5.1 Surround sound. There are subtitles available in English as well. The dialogue and music come out loud and clear, so no major problems here either. About on par with most other new Blu-ray DVD nature series releases.

“Filming In Extremes” Featurette
This runs 19 minutes total and is broken up into three parts: “The Crystal Caves,” “Walking Through Fire” and “Paragliding.” Basically, it’s just a big, long interview with Stewart. He discusses the highs and lows of his job and what it was like traveling and shooting out in some rather unforgiving climates and environments. This is mostly interesting to learn about how this series was filmed.

How the Earth Changed History is a must-watch for anyone who loves anthropology, geology and history. It combines elements of all three to explain how culture live or die based on the environments around them.

BBC Earth/Warner Home Video presents How the Earth Changed History. Created by BBC Natural History Unit. Hosted by Iain Stewart. Running time: 300 minutes. Rated: NOT RATED. Released on Blu-ray: June 29, 2010.