Cobbling together episodes from History’s Rome: Rise and Fall of an Empire, Engineering an Empire, Ancients Behaving Badly, and Barbarians, the Empires DVD Megaset presents a 32 hour and 15-minute exploration of the governments and military forces that swept the planet and the lasting impact they left on the global face with their rise and fall. Whether you know it or not, each of these empires has lasting influence on your day to day life ranging from the architecture around you, the government you pay taxes to (and the fact that you pay taxes), and the emergence of global superpowers over time that dictates just how important your sense of nationalism really is. With so much time spent on these empires and their great battles and leaders, you really couldn’t ask for a more thorough chunk of visual stimulation on the subject – unless you really want in-depth analysis, in which case you’re better off hitting the books, but for the broad strokes and factoids this set delivers everything you’d need.
The set starts with the basic introduction to the major players of the set including European forces like Greece, Britain, and Russia, intermittently stacked between pieces on Aztecs, Mayans, and the Chinese dynasties. To close out this first portion, we get long feature-length looks at two of the most impressive and defining empires of all time: Rome and Egypt. This portion spans the first six discs of the set and until you get to the big Rome and Egypt features, each little chapter lasts the typical 42-46 minutes. While this setup works well for what it is, there are times (as in the case of the Mayans and Aztecs) when you wish a little more time had been spent on the little guys and less on going over and over and over on the big hitters which have been covered ad infinitum.
The next four discs include the episodes from Rome: Rise and Fall of an Empire, featuring some of the state’s greatest battles re-enacted to mostly satisfying levels (at some point it’s like watching the opening scene of Gladiator on repeat). Also, a few episodes devote themselves entirely to key figures in the Roman story like Spartacus, Julius Caesar, Constantine the Great, and a few other emperors. Sprinkled in between the deluge of battle-centric episodes, the biography-based installments come as breaths of fresh air. When you’re not learning about a specific person, you’re watching the Roman Empire build to its climax, achieve Pax Romana, and then slip away as the barbarian hordes begin testing the lines of the overexpanded nationstate and political disputes see it crumble from the inside-out. Together these four discs make up 10 hours of the set.
The final four discs are split between Ancients Behaving Badly and Barbarians, and represent the final ten hours of the set. Ancients Behaving Badly won’t bring information that will shock many audiences, despite being a series entirely devoted to all the horrible things rulers would do to gain control and hold on to it. Killing siblings, political coups, subjugation of equals, and backroom deals were the basic instruments on many of the most powerful leaders’ toolbelts for acquiring the throne (literal or otherwise). On one hand it’s nice to know the exploits that advanced Caligula, Julius Caesar, Nero, Hannibal and Cleopatra aren’t the norm of today, on the other hand though, politics would be so much more interesting. Finally, we reach the barbarians, for which Rome: Rise and Fall of an Empire was essentially a primer. Savagery abounds as each 40-minute piece focuses on the exploits of more well-known forces like the Vikings and the lesser visible Goths before shifting to the Asian front to cover the Huns and Mongols. These are some of the more interesting pieces in the set, and the run-time fits the amount of material perfectly.
DVD Bonus Features
The set features a varied assortment of extras like behind-the-scenes featurettes for Barbarians, Engineering an Empire, the Modern Marvels episode devoted to "Barbarian Battle Tech" an episode from History’s program, Biography episode on Attila the Hun. On top of that, a series of more in-depth featurettes covers some of the things the main features on these desks had to stop short of based on time constraints or being out of line with the main line of thinking. Most of the extras are found in the Rome and Italy Engineering an Empire discs with plenty of featurettes to complement the main content.
The set is thorough for the overarching look at the major empires of the world, but if you’re looking for truly revealing looks at King Tut or Alexander the Great as men, you’ll only find bits and pieces. The set’s thesis is on the concept of an Empire in general, this means that the smaller more intimate details get glossed over to cover the big bullet points. It’s an excellent teaching aide, but it really can’t replace a focused look at any of the subjects in question.
"Empires" is on sale October 5, 2010 and is not rated. Crime-Thriller. Directed by Christopher Cassel, Mark Cannon. Written by Christopher Cassel, Carrie Gardner. Starring Leif Anders, Michael Carroll, Peter Weller, Tom McCamus.