How the Earth Changed History is a new key documentary series Blu-ray title released by BBC Home Video on June 29th, 2010.
Produced by the creators of Earth: The Biography, this BBC television documentary series studies how the planet’s natural forces have shaped the evolution of human society.
There are four main episodes in the series, which loosely follow the four classical elements of Earth, Water, Air and Fire.
The first episode covers the effects of water on human history.
It is not hard to imagine how water shaped the growth of civilizations planet wide, with early humans tending to start communities in the vicinity of abundant water sources like lakes and rivers.
Additionally civilizations who became capable of harnessing the water for irrigation and storage have been successful, and conflicts over the rights to water continue even to this day.
The second episode focuses on the deep earth.
This episode covers both the effects of the minerals of the deep earth, as well as the negative effects of deep earth movement in the form of earthquakes and tsunamis.
Interestingly enough, both the abundance of minerals and the occurrence of earthquakes are associated with the fault lines along the borders of the tectonic plates.
For example, California has received great benefit from the fault lines like the San Andreas fault, as well as having occasionally suffering from major earthquakes.
Wind is the topic for the third episode, where we learn how the planet’s prevailing wind patterns changed the way humans traveled the globe after Columbus’ discovery of the Atlantic trade winds.
With ships following the winds on the trade routes where ‘globalization’ effectively began.
The wind has also affected the climate all around the world, creating opportunities for some regions to cultivate farming and subsequent wealth in historic civilizations.
Of course interactions between wind and the ocean has caused numerous natural disasters over the years.
The final episode of the series covers the topic of Fire.
While fire is of great danger to humans, the harnessing of fire has led to many innovations that have aided in the development of civilization and it is something that we use every day in a variety of ways to provide heat or energy.
Fire is a relatively recent element, with the conditions needed for fire only met when plant life had raised the oxygen level to that needed for fire to exist.
Tracing the use of fire and the effects on history is actually more akin to tracing the choices of fuel, starting with simple wood, through charcoal to coal and other fossil fuels.
Along with the development of new fuels came novel ways to use the fuel to create motive force from fire.
There is an additional episode in the series called Human Planet, which looks at the effects that humans have had in turn on the planet in recent history.
With human influence reaching even the furthest corners of the planet, this episode looks at impact on the planet that humans have and what effects this might have on the future of the human race.
This television series is entertaining in that it presents many sites on earth that you will probably have never seen before, each with an interesting story that ties into the theme of the episode.
Quite a number of the segments feature some pretty extreme efforts to access, including caving, paragliding, diving and filming at intense temperatures.
Another of the intriguing aspects of the series for me was the revelation of many ancient cultures that came and went due to the natural forces on the planet, and the ruins that remain from these civilizations.
In some ways I wonder how long current western culture has before vast natural forces cause a major upheaval and change life as we know it.
The series is presented in person by Professor Iain Stewart, which for me makes a fresh change from the typical narration.
This series was well worth checking out and I found it to be more educational than some of the ‘eye candy’ documentaries released in recent years, though it is also quite visually stimulating as well.
The series has had a good response from viewers, with an IMDb score of 8/10.
The video on the disc is an AVC 1080i encode at 19.5 Mbps, and is presented at 1.78:1 aspect ratio, filling the HDTV screen.
The video is all shot on HD cameras, and while quality is generally decent. it does vary and compression artifacts are occasionally present.
You will find full resolution PNG screen captures taken directly from the disc at the details page for How the Earth Changed History.
The main audio is lossless DTS-HD Master Audio with 5.1 channels – 24 bits resolution at 48 kHz.
It is nice to see lossless audio used for this release – somewhat of a departure from Warner’s other television releases.
The series is presented on two discs – the first is a dual layer BD50, with 33.5 GB used and the second a close to full BD25 – the discs are coded for All Regions.
The extras are on the second disc and under the title Filming In Extremes.
This supplement is a selection of interviews with presenter Iain Stewart where he discusses the challenges of shooting certain segments for the series, intercut with occasional behind the scenes footage.
These interviews provide interesting insight in to the lengths they went to in order to get the shots they wanted – it would have been nice if there were some more similar segments or other extras included though.
How the Earth Changed History is a worthwhile documentary series that I can recommend.
The BBC Home Video Blu-ray release does have a few visual artifacts and is a little light on extras, though my overall feeling is that it is still well worth a look.
The retail price is $34.99, or order it right now at Amazon for $29.49, saving 16%!
- Filming In Extremes – An Interview With Iain Stewart
From the creators of Earth: The Biography comes this powerful story of the natural forces of geology, geography and climate that shaped mankind as we know it. Passionate storytelling and extraordinary high-definition footage offer an original version of human history and a new perspective on who we are today.