Empires DVD Megaset – DVD Review

The History Channel is good with a lot of things, but one of the things they’re the best at is their DVD release compilations. They have a knack of knowing what to pair together and the Empires DVD Megaset combines the two things their history pieces cover the best: War and Engineering marvels.

Comprised of Rome: Rise and Fall of an Empire, Engineering an Empire, Ancients Behaving Badly and Barbarians, the Empires DVD Megaset focuses on the great battles and the great feats of engineering that marked the world’s greatest empires.

While each series focuses on various aspects of world history, from the battles of the Roman Empire to the engineering feats of ancient China, there’s a unifying purpose in all of them that makes them feel like they belong together in this DVD set. Given a grander historical perspective, there’s a unifying theme to everything. These are all various perspectives as to how an empire rose as well as perspectives on the reasons it fell. Using historians and experts on the subjects involved, as well as historical recreations for dramatic purposes, there’s a grander sense being shown. It is neither dry textbook material nor is it history with large segments that are fictional ala Spartacus or Rome but, rather, a combination of the former infused with some of the visuals of the latter.

And that’s what makes the various series, combined due to a commonality, so intriguing. There’s enough material from a historical perspective to be educational and enough visual material to keep it from becoming a history lecture by academics. There are more than just the events to be found here, including some rather in depth analysis as to why things happened the way they did. It gives an insight into the material that normally isn’t found. The best example is Spartacus, subject of both an epic film and a television series. Why Spartacus continued his revolt against the Romans from the perspective as a free man, and how the Romans reacted to him thinking he was still a slave, gives an insight into the actual history behind his slave revolt that the various forms it’s taken on both television and film have tackled the subject haven’t been able to do. We can see why Spartacus would lead the slaves in rebellion, and why it failed miserably, with a bit of historical perspective from experts as opposed to invented perspective from a screenwriter.

The series itself is remarkable in that it doesn’t merely go into the mythos behind the ancient world; it takes a lot of effort to get into the actualities of what happened and the physics behind some of the wonders of the ancient world. It’s nice to see something that just doesn’t pay lip service to it; rather it attempts to get into the heart of the matter and explain how and why things happened in the manner they did. It’s a fuller perspective and gives you an insight into the machinations of history that a dry reading wouldn’t allow.

The Empires DVD Megaset isn’t for the faint of heart, closing in at over 32 hours of material, but if you’re a history buff this is a wealth of material to immerse oneself in.

Presented in a widescreen format with a Dolby presentation, this is a stellar presentation. Combining CGI with historical recreations and various hosts (including Robocop star Peter Weller) on location, this is a clean and crisp presentation.

There are scattered Behind the Scenes featurettes throughout the DVD megaset.

There isn’t an excessive amount of extras but with an almost obscene amount of base material to work with, Empires gives us a rare insight into history that’s inordinately tough.

The History Channel presents Empires DVD Megaset. Running time: 1935 minutes. Not Rated. Released on DVD: October 5, 2010.