BBC/Roadshow Entertainment .
R4 . COLOR . 157 mins .
M15+ . PAL
The BBC have built something of a reputation over the last few years for bringing history to life before our eyes using the latest computer technology, in-depth research methods and graphic representations of the way the world once was. Until now that reputation has been mostly limited to the Walking With… series that focused heavily on the world before mankind was even so much as a blot on the landscape. Now, however, they have branched out and delivered this three-in-one made for television docudrama DVD comprising of Pyramid – Beyond Imagination, Colosseum – Rome’s Arena of Death and Pompeii – The Last Day. All are just short of an hour in length, combine narration and scripted text, and display high production values, accompanied by a small selection of extras.
So that's how they did it!
In Pyramid – Beyond Imagination you can follow the life-journey of Nakht, a rural nobody who, along with his brother, get conscripted and taken to Cairo with thousands of others to work on the Great Pyramid of Giza. Follow Nakht as he rises from simple quarry digger to a position of more authority over the ten years that the construction took, watch as pyramid building myths are debunked, and CGI is used to convey the size and grandeur of the pyramid.
"It looked bigger in the brochure."
Colosseum – Rome’s Arena of Death introduces the slave, Verus, who is quick to see that the life of a gladiator in the arena is far more glamorous and all-in-all less dangerous than an ultimately short life in the quarries. At gladiator school he learns to fight and survive. Verus becomes something of a celebrity in Rome and is nominated to fight in the opening 100 days of celebrations at the new arena, The Colosseum, built by the Emperor Titus. The Colosseum and the games must have been an incredible spectacle in the glory days of Rome.
Smoke gets in your eyes - and shortly, everywhere else besides.
However, it is probably the last of the three titles, Pompeii – The Last Day, that delivers the most in the way of a dramatic story. It presents Pompeii as of something of a small metropolis much like any other situated on the Bay of Naples. But what happens when their peace is shattered by the rumblings of Mt Vesuvius in AD 79? Terror, panic, horror, death and destruction - that’s what. As her citizens do their best to flee the city or dig in and wait for the horror to pass, we are witness to the total destruction of not only Pompeii but other communities in the area. This feature dispels the myth that the eruption and resulting burial of Pompeii was quick and caught her citizens off guard. It seems nothing could be further from the truth - and history shows that another next big eruption is due.
This triumvirate of features is a great addition to any collection and sure to offer something to adults, children and armchair historians everywhere…
Spread over two discs, this collection is consistently good, visually. The aspect ratio is a constant 1.78:1 and all three features are 16:9 enhanced. Colouring is solid throughout, with no associated problems of noise or bleeding. The image is generally very clear with good levels of sharpness, very little to no grain, and no compression artefacts.
Black levels are good as are shadow details. There are some minor flecks and specks for those paying unnecessarily close attention, and a little shimmer in places. The layer change on Disc Two is discretely tucked away between the features.
The sole audio option is a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track that is mostly dedicated to narration, with the most impressive moments being displayed during some of the accompanying score that is as big and as bold as the production itself.
There are no problems anywhere with clarity or volume, synchronisation is great, and there is some mild evidence of panning and separation. Low level sounds are deep and rich and lend the erupting Vesuvius some extra menace, and while a full 5.1 would have been nice to share in the sounds of falling ash and rock, this is still a nice audio track in every way.
There is a nice balance in extras across all three features with something for everyone.
With Pyramid…, there is a 15-minute Making Of that features interviews with some of the crew such as the director, costume designer and set designer who all have little bit to say about their areas, naturally enough. There is a short, text-only Fact File about the pyramids, a photo gallery, a two-minute collection of TV Spots in trailers, and a Before and After Visual Effects that provide some insight into the magic of CGI reconstruction.
For Colosseum… there is a lengthy Colosseum - A Composer’s Story that shows the effort put into the accompanying score and the impact that it can have on a production. There are also six interviews taking about half an hour mostly with crew and the lead actor, Robert Shannon. Lastly, there are some brief text-only fact files included also.
Lastly, accompanying Pompeii are two interviews with the director and the costume designer running a combined ten minutes, and another text-only fact files.
You know when you buy a BBC product that it is usually of decent quality and value, and Beyond Imagination is no exception. The three features are quality all the way, and provide a nice balance of fact and fiction that bind together to provide a personal insight into a time so very different from our own.