A&E Home Video presents
"The Pope was building up war fever."- Terry Jones
Stars: Terry Jones, narrator
Director: Alan Ereira, David Wallace
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (brief nudity)
Run Time: 03h:28m:01s
Release Date: 2002-01-02
DVD ReviewMonty Python alum Terry Jones served as writer and humble narrator for this jaunty 3-1/2 hour, four part 1995 A&E documentary on the wholesale religious slaughter known as The Crusades, and his presence saves this project from turning into a dreary and overlong history lesson. No stranger to things medieval, and somewhat of an expert in his own right, Jones helps keep the overall tone light, even while he is describing the brutalities of that long ago holy mission when armies of European knights battled Islamic forces in the name of God for nearly 200 years.
Spread across two discs, Crusades tackles what might have been potentially dry text-book subject matter with a degree of cleverness and wit, all the while avoiding sounding like a thinly-veiled college lecture. Jones is easy and natural in front of the camera, and his narration is the most enjoyable element here, full of Python-esque banter and very British quips. Even when there seems to be an almost insurmountable array of characters being discussed, Jones is still fun to listen to.
Directors Alan Ereira and David Wallace incorporate a number of different techniques in order to not solely rely on the old documentary standby of slowly panning across old paintings (there is plenty of that, however) while the narrator speaks. The dreaded reenactments are kept to a minimum, though that device is pretty much unavoidable. Actors portraying various historical figures, here decked out in creepy, surreal makeup, are blended into paintings to create a sort of living diorama. Interviews with a handful of historians and theologians from around the world are used along side such things as a Python-worthy phony newsreel, heralding the start of The Crusades.
Pilgrims in Arms (49m:01s)
The first chapter begins in 1096, with the threat of a Turk overthrow of Constantinople, and the call for assistance from the Pope. Jones and crew trace the knights' route across Europe, and ends with their arrival in Jerusalem
With the end of the First Crusade stationed firmly outside the city of Jerusalem, part two largely covers the siege of Antioch, where knights first employed the aptly-named siege machines. Antioch was a key moment in the Crusades, when things really turned obscenely violent.
This installment focuses on primarily on the Muslims and the Second Crusade, particularly the legendary Arab warrior Nur ed-Din and Saladin. With a declaration of jihad, or holy war, the battle between the Muslims and the knights ultimately resulted in a major strategic mistake by Saladin that shifted the balance of power.
The final part covers the Third and Fourth Crusades, and introduces Richard (aka Richard the Lion-Hearted) into the fray. As the final battles bled into Egypt, and finally back to Constantinople where an ironic twist heralded the end of The Crusades.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: Presented in 1.33:1 full-frame, Crusades has an overall dusty look to it, with pale colors predominating. There is no real vibrancy here, and the whole series looks rather flat. Not as sharp as I would have hoped for, but all in all presentable as a documentary.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 stereo mix lacks any substantial dynamic range or separation, and things tend to sound on the muddy side, with an inconsistent high end. The score, likewise, doesn't have the dramatic lift that would have made some of the passages more engaging for the viewer.
The narration is never incomprehensible, it's just that the audio mix is noticeably mediocre.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Packaging: 2 disc slip case
Each episode is split into 6 chapters.
Extras Grade: D+
Final CommentsWhile the subject matter may not appeal to everyone, this 2-disc set is an ideal introduction to The Crusades, and narrator Terry Jones appears genuinely interested in the material.
Dark, grim and often funny. That's how I like my history.Recommended.
Rich Rosell 2002-03-13