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A&E Home Video presents
How the Earth Was Made (2007)

"A world of fire. A world of ice. One of raging seas, and poisonous skies..."
- Edward Herrmann

Review By: Ross Johnson  
Published: April 29, 2008

Stars: Edward Herrmann
Director: Peter Chin

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:34m:00s
Release Date: April 15, 2008
UPC: 733961110548
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- AB+B B+

DVD Review

The folks at The History Channel are on the case yet again—the topic this time? The entire planet. No longer content, it would seem, to take us back decades to WWII, or centuries to ancient Rome, this one goes just a bit further. By several billion years. The format is fairly standard of high-end History Channel stuff: computer graphics intermixed with talking heads, and the ubiquitous but reliable Edward Hermann as narrator.

The format is just about flawless: the documentary begins by taking a brief trip through the history of geological scholarship, from biblical calculations placing the age of the earth in thousands of years, to the work of 18th and 19th century geologists who managed to expand that age by millions by examining rock formations and calculating how long it would take the earth to cool from an entirely molten state. In the 20th century, things got more dramatic still, and earth's age is now calculated in the billions of years. About 4.5, to be just a bit more precise. Through computer graphics, experts, and strong location work (all staples of higher-end History Channel productions) we're walked through those billions of years in a dramatic and easy-to-follow fashion. That's important: at no point was I lost or bored. I have no doubt that geologists, biologists, meteorologists and all of the other scientists whose branches have contributed to a more thorough understanding of the origins of our planet would be appalled watching several billion years transpire over the course of 90 minutes, but I found it a fine overview. Complicated concepts are explained fairly well: frankly, geology courses never gave me quite the understanding of plate tectonics that I got from the straightforward animation shown here.

We're in a rare moment of quiet on the earth: we began as a planet of molten lava, and then a world entirely covered in green, iron-rich water, until the great landmasses began to rise to the surface, bringing with them the first oxygenating organisms. The water got blue, and the land was desert. Until, of course, conditions were such that the planet became a giant snowball, an ice world. It's a bit like a journey through the Star Wars movies, but all in one place: our home. Perhaps thinking of Star Wars was missing the point a bit, but I was struck by the simple fact that our world has been many worlds throughout its evolution, constantly changing and adapting itself into entirely different states and, later, supporting vastly different forms of life. Some of the earliest such forms are still around today, but we are lucky, in a sense, to exist at a moment both quiet and supportive to reflective human life. In allowing for our creation, the planet is able to stop and look back at its own history for the first time in 4.5 billion years. The number of truly dramatic (dramatic being an understatement) global and galactic events that had to transpire to bring us to this place in the history of earth is mind-boggling. The existential questions are a bit beyond the scope of How the Earth Was Made, but the quality and clarity of the History Channel’s presentation of the scientific facts properly raised in me a new appreciation of the precariousness of humanity’s time on Earth, and left me imagining what the next billion years could hold. The forces that produced oceans, mountains, trees, and us aren’t done yet.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

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

Image Transfer Review: The image quality is rather stunning for a standard-definition DVD. The widescreen ratio is non-anamorphic, which is disappointing, but the presentation is otherwise pretty great. Everything is sharp and lively, colors are strong, and there aren't any compression problems.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 track here is perfectly acceptable. It's non-spectacular, and some of the dramatic upheavals depicted could've probably used a bit more oomph in the audio. Nothing to complain about, but not terribly dramatic either.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 10 cues and remote access
5 Deleted Scenes
0 Documentaries
Packaging: custom cardboard cover with sl
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The disc is presented in 100% recycled packaging with an egg-carton-type material holding the disc. I absolutely applaud the History Channels efforts here, but I have two small complaints: one, the disc was rather hard to pry from the packaging, to the point that I was worried about damaging the disc. A simple snvelope-type slot, as I've seen in other earth-friendly packages, would've served just fine. Second, is it only the earth-related releases that deserve recycled paper packaging? This is a great start, don't get me wrong, but lets get this moving into the broader market. The inside cover also includes a neat timeline of the planet as a reference.

The major extra is the 90-minute Inside the Volcano documentary. It's not nearly as strong as the main feature, but it's still well done, and provides a good deal more insight into a topic only touched upon otherwise. Also provided are five briefExtra Scenes covering dinosaur bones, glaciers, the Grand Canyon, etc.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

It might be a bit dry for some, and it's probably a bit general for science-types, but I found How the Earth Was Made just right. The extra piece on volcanoes is somethat less enjoyable, but still interesting, and I applaud the earth-friendly packaging (if only they'd do it more often). The History Channel has put together a documentary of high quality that moves briskly and with clarity.


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