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The ZONE - genre nonfiction
Soundchecks - music reviews
Rotary Action - helicopter movies
narrators: Corey Johnson and Edward Herrmann
writer and director: Peter Chinn
585 minutes (E) 2007
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
Go Entertain / History Channel DVD Region 2 retail
review by Jim Steel
How The Earth Was Made
There are 13 episodes in this TV series, each one concentrating on a particular feature. We have the San Andreas Fault, the Marinas Trench, New
York, Krakatoa, Loch Ness, Yellowstone, tsunamis, and asteroids, Atacama, the Great Lakes, Death Valley, Iceland, Hawaii, and the Alps. Most concentrate
on a particular location, frequently with a splurge of narrative hyperbole (Corey Johnson) that has a slightly bombastic tone. Every location feels
as if it were the biggest, driest or deepest. And, of course somewhere on Earth has to be. However, once any given episode gets underway, it soon
manages to reel in the viewer's interest. The photography is superb and the on-location experts are articulate and lucid. There are facts and theories
concerning geology and meteorology that will be new to all but the most expert of viewers, and it is put across in such a way as to make the series
a practical teaching aid.
At regular intervals the episodes will recap what it has already covered in brief bulletin points. Once the initial sensationalism has passed (the
first episode featuring the San Andreas Fault certainly doesn't help this impression), the episodes are a delight and many are quite beautiful to
watch. The episode on Iceland and the mid-Atlantic ridge is a favourite in this respect, although they all bear repeated viewings. I paid particular
attention to the Loch Ness episode (well, it's local!), and didn't feel cheated. True, at the start, and at occasional points throughout, there is
a shot of a computer-generated plesiosaur and the promise of solving the mystery but this, somewhat patronisingly, was merely to hook the viewer;
the episode turns out to be a lovely essay on tectonics. And, yes, they do solve the mystery by the end. Why are there no plesiosaurs in Loch Ness?
They became extinct 65 million years ago, and the loch is only 10,000 years old. No surprise there.
It should also be pointed out that American measurements are used throughout. Places are compared in size to American states, which will make a
change for British viewers who are used to everywhere being compared with multiples of Wales. Loch Ness, you might be interested to know, is the
same size as Manhattan. Computer-generated dinosaurs also turn up during the episode on asteroids (which mainly focuses on Meteor Crater). The
geology and physics is (or seems) spot-on throughout, but there is one howler during the episode on the Alps when it is stated that most of the
people during Leonardo da Vinci's time believed the world to be flat. A careless comment such as that will cause many people to doubt the veracity
of much of the other information presented here.
Most of the individual episodes in this 13-part series rates more than 6/10, so why is the rating for the boxset as a whole so low? The series
has no overall narrative arch; each of the episodes is designed to be dipped into without losing of the viewer's interest (this is an understandable
concern for anyone who's ever lost half-an-hour just flicking through cable or satellite channels looking for something to watch). The whole set,
with the 45 minutes of content per episode and the fades that allow for the insertion of advertising to make up an hour's worth of airtime, feels
as if it is merely a vehicle to transport people to the commercials (a doubly-pointless exercise with the boxset, of course). And, with the partial
exception of the asteroids episode, none of the episodes comes near to explaining how, exactly, the Earth was, in fact made. It does, in fact, make
one realise exactly how good those BBC series are.