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Big History (Blu-ray Review)

19 Mar, 2014 By: John Latchem

Three-disc set, $29.98 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray
Not rated
Narrated by Bryan Cranston.

Why are gold and silver so valuable? What makes cows a primary source of our food? What does the sinking of the Titanic have to do with your cell phone? Why do we wear pants? From the complex to the mundane, these are just a few of the topics covered by the ambitious “Big History,” the documentary series that airs on A&E’s H2 channel.

What sets “Big History” apart from most history documentaries is its mission statement to contextualize commonalities of our society within the scope of the history of the entire universe. The show is based on the relatively recent Big History academic movement, which looks to examine and explain human existence from a larger perspective.

As the show urges viewers to consider with its opening titles, history isn’t just a line connecting the present to the past, but a vast web of interconnected events. For example, Big History makes the case that the American Revolution happened because its planners were able to stay focused by drinking coffee and tea, fueled by an addiction to caffeine that traces back to the way life evolved into plants and animals.

“Big History” is filled with such connections, explaining historic trends through a vast array of scientific inquiries. Understanding a deeper meaning behind everyday objects will certainly alter some perspectives. Try looking at your cell phone the same way again after being told it represents not only the sum total of humanity’s accumulated scientific knowledge, but its components nearly account for the geologic history of Earth.

The show’s 17 episodes cover a variety of topics, culminating in a 90-minute special modestly titled “The Big History of Everything,” which reveals the eight threshold events that led to life as we know it.

Bryan Cranston’s distinctive voice lends the show a certain gravitas, yet his narration makes the show accessible to all because it is written in a way that is easy to understand. The show’s flashy graphics and a reliance on CG effects also are designed to appeal to a wider audience.  Whatever it takes to get more viewers is fine by me, since it certainly couldn’t hurt if more people were to think a little more deeply about their place in the universe.


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