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FOCUSfilm Entertainment presents
The History of the Machine Gun (1999)

"At the center of every armed conflict of the 20th century, the machine gun has been a tool of conquest and liberation. Everywhere it has unleashed consequences its creators never imagined."
- narrator (Lawrence Bayne)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: September 18, 2007

Stars: Lawrence Bayne
Director: Steven Silver

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (scenes of war and machine gun violence)
Run Time: 02h:21m:15s
Release Date: September 11, 2007
UPC: 683070222529
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C+ C+B-B- F

DVD Review

The History Of The Machine Gun is actually three separate 47-minute Canadian-made docs, made for the Discovery Channel . Seen as whole, the content is interconnected, yet still viewable independently without the need for the others, and this DVD gives you the option to watch them as one huge entity, or as individual pieces. And despite that whole "history of" title, the thesis of this is more concerned with poking and prodding along a political message that may or may not sit well with you, depending on your individual level of liberalism.

There's much talk about "imperial conquests" along the way, and the three segments, all of which were directed by Steven Silver, are entitled White Smoking Devil, The Gun Comes Home and The Age Of The AK. The first begins in 1840, as Richard Gatling develops his namesake weapon, while the final installment ends by lamenting about the weapon-fueled gang problems of modern day Los Angeles. There's a hunk on the two World Wars, a little Al Capone, but it's a lopsided presentation across the board, because over the course of two hours and twenty-one minutes the measurable amount of actual gun history pales next to the apparent need to inject a distinctly slanted agenda.

And it is that central political theme that is the most troubling aspect about the overall tone of the three short docs that make up The History Of The Machine Gun. Not that I necessarily disagree with the entire message, it's just that I don't want my Discovery Channel programming to preach to me that blatantly. I'd prefer to be educated on a subject and then leave it up to me make my own mind up on a given issue; I don't want a tilted or folded lobbyist-fed doctrine to be wedged into some preconceived position. That's somewhat dangerous ground to take for what is theoretically educational programming, and it's a little disconcerting to see the Discovery Channel name attached to something so pointed.

A casual glance at any of the three segments of The History Of The Machine Gun probably wouldn't raise any eyebrows, because it looks like so many of its historical doc brethren. There's lots of intriguing archival footage, much of it focusing on wanton death and destruction. If you're not really paying attention, it actually might be difficult to really notice the lefty sloping of the narrative, and this all might seem like just another history lesson. By taking a more focused look at this quickly reveals a far from impartial objective, and that just taints the entire thing for me.

The closing segment on the Metal Storm machine gun—and its frightening potential of a million rounds per minute firing power—is a reminder that man continually is finding new and more powerful ways to shoot other men. It's sad and frightening at the same time, yet the bigger, more immediate problem is that the underlying theme of these three programs—despite my own personal leanings—veers too often off the path of machine gun history and instead blunders into areas and opinions that it should have avoided.

Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: C+


Image Transfer

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

Image Transfer Review: All three episodes are presented in their original 1.33:1 fullframe. Much of the material consists of an array of very old archival footage, so it's a little unfair to find too much to quibble about, even with age-related nicks and debris. Some of the new (circa 1999) color interview segments, however, are slightly soft, but still well within presentable ranges.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: Nothing too showy here, just a simple 2.0 stereo mix that neatly dishes up narrator Lawrence Bayne's deep voice with clear, clean quality. No hiss or crackle, yet nothing noteworthy on the plus or minus side.

Solid, effective and unremarkable.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: No extras at all, just the three separate episodes viewable separately or via the Play All option. Each 47-minute ep is cut into six chapters.

Extras Grade: F


Final Comments

If you ostensibly crave the history of weapons you may get more than you bargained with here, as this three-part chronological snapshot of the evolution of the machine gun also dabbles in some none-too-veiled distinct political leanings. The gun stuff is kind of grim and depressing—what with all the death and destruction—though the sermonizing is a little tough to swallow.


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