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MPI Networks presents
The 20th Century: A Moving Visual History (2000)

"The time has come when isolation is no longer possible or desirable."
- President McKinley

Review By: Robert Mandel   
Published: May 30, 2000

Stars: A cast of thousands from Theodore Roosevelt to William Jefferson Clinton
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: approx. 12h:45m:00s
Release Date: May 30, 2000
UPC: 030306743226
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A AC+B- B-

DVD Review

From the moment this disc opens with FDR's famous "Day that will live in Infamy" speech, through its apropos overlay of Nixon saying, "The people have a right to know their president is not a crook" while showing Clinton, and JFK's "We choose to go to the moon...because it is hard" speech, a history buff like me knew he was about to eat up something special. 13 hours—a most formidable undertaking, but nothing compared to the task of fitting an entire century in such a small amount of time.

What is immediately apparent is the extensive research that went into the creation of this set, with a wonderful abundance of photos, films, newspaper clips, poetry, and newly taped interviews with historians and experts. What is most important is how many of the events of the early century past have such an integral effect on our life in the new century, from women's, civil and worker's rights to the war in Bosnia; from the state of Russian and Irish-British affairs to the creation of the Food and Drug Administration. What is most important is how many of the events of the early century past have such an integral effect on our life in the new century. From women's, civil and worker's rights to the war in Bosnia; from the state of Russian and Irish-British affairs to the creation of the Food and Drug Administration. It is obvious that documentaries of this sort have been heavily influenced by Ken Burn's Civil War, with the intercutting of interviews and the zooming in and out of photos to give an overall sense of movement.

This set will transport you back to the time of the Roughriders, and that tough pug from New York City, Teddy Roosevelt, forward to the trials and tribulation of Clinton. It will drag the human race and its two main competing philosophies of the century—Democracy and Communism—through two World Wars, through the killing fields of Cambodia and the Cold War, and out the other side to the tearing down of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. It will take you from the shadow that lurks beneath Man's darkest place, the Holocaust, to the apex of his existence here on Earth and beyond to space. This double DVD-18, the first that I know of, will lay a blanket over a century like no other; one in which time and space and Man's will converged in an explosion of science and medicine, and the resulting knowledge of ourselves, the world, the universe around us expanded more exponentially than all centuries that came before, and help put it to rest.

This is a wonderful set to share with your kids, an exciting way to give them a lesson in history in a presentation that no encyclopedia can bring to life. Although your younger children may be bored at times, and will most likely be unable to absorb much of what is presented, if you just let them sit in the room and play while this is on, who knows what they'll learn through "osmosis" or "contact learning"? In fact, I would recommend this to History or even Social Science teachers for classroom fare, superior to the scratchy 8mm films we viewed, with their warbled, outdated narration. There is so much to be gleaned it can't all be taken in a single sitting, nor even in one viewing cycle—and if you're a History Channel nut like me, you'll probably pop this in every time you require a fix. This is a classy, well-written, nicely laid out set my family truly enjoyed.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The very old turn of the century clips are mostly grainy, pockmarked and filthy, while others are in remarkably good shape. There is evidence of aliasing distortion, scan lines, and other MPEG-2 artifacts (a good example may be found in the sharecropper clips in episode one, approx. 10 minutes in). The 4:3 interviews are pretty sharp for video quality, with natural looking fleshtones throughout. The overall presentation is mixed, but generally clean—one can't reasonably expect MPI to have renovated the film I'm sure they used by permission only.

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: One doesn't expect much from a documentary covering back to the technological innovations of the early 20th century, so when I found some nice LFE effects at the beginning of episode two, and during the coverage of WWI, I was frankly surprised. We looked at each other as if we were impressed—and we were! There are times where the incidental music is sent through the surrounds, for enveloping dramatic impact. Otherwise, as one might expect, this is mainly a center channel-based soundtrack.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 124 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish and French with remote access
Packaging: other
2 Discs
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: DVD-18

Extra Extras:
  1. Newsreels
  2. 36-page scene access and index booklet
Extras Review: The only real supplement is fun and worthwhile, indeed, as there is over an hour of newsreels from the 1920s on through. By side:

1a) Josephine Baker singing in what seems to be a boxing ring; Amelia Earhart breaking flying records to the sounds of the 1812 Overture; a trip upon a Zeppelin (luckily not the Hindenburg); a spot of 1920s fashion; a 160th anniversary of the Marine corps. (I ran into a bit of pixelation and freeze-up of the disc here).

1b) "Wings of the West" cross-continental airplanes; the opening of Gone With The Wind; Canadian quintuplets; British Civil Defense warning to "carry your gas mask"; The 1945 War for Israel's Independence following the United Nations' declaration of Israeli statehood; Carmen Miranda in all her fruitful splendor; Babe Zaharias wins the National Golf Open; a German circus act newsreel that presages David Letterman's stupid human and pet tricks (shows how similar the music and narration was between the two warring countries); Willa Wurthington, women's water skiing champion; the 25th Silver Skates, including a performance by Dick Buttons, Olympic skating announcer.

2a) Hep cat teenagers; the Hoola Hoop; flying saucer spottings in the tradition of all great old sci-fi films; fashion ware including WingDing dresses; 2-way wrist watch radio ala Dick Tracy (precursor of the cell phone?); more fashion—this time with Parisian paper dresses; New Year's 1967; technical advances like satellite dishes and video telephones (oops!); Concorde 001.

2b) The most fascinating newsreel from the late 1960s or early 70s claiming RCA was pressing metal video discs (about the size of a DVD, that allowed viewers to watch whole movies uninterrupted—they show Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid—what was that about?); Cesar Chavez's United Farm Workers; Laser shows; El Savador's Somoza falls to the Sandanistas; the Iran Hostage Crisis.

The 36-page booklet containing a list of chapter titles and a complete index of everything, place or person discussed in this film is well done and classy. The only thing missing is a listing of the above newsreel contents, but I think I'll forgive MPI. Impressive.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

This really is a nice set, although with a slightly larger price tag than most of us are used to dishing out. I do think however, that product like this is absolutely vital to the growth of our favorite format, and holds the key to its acceptance into the mass culture. Highly recommended.


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