Review: America The Story of Us Blu-ray

STUDIO: A&E | DIRECTORS: Jenny Ash, Clare Beavan, Andrew Chater, Nick Green
RELEASE DATE: 9/14/10 | PRICE: DVD $39.95, Blu-ray $49.95
BONUSES: deleted scenes
SPECS: NR | 720 min. | Documentary | 1.78:1 widescreen | DTS-HD Master Audio/DTS-HD HR 5.1

RATINGS (out of 5): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

Combine American history with CSI, and you get America: The Story of Us, the visually stunning — particularly on Blu-ray Disc — 12-part History Channel documentary on the American experience and the country’s history. Replete with cool computer imagery, illustrating the effect of a musket ball on an American rebel, the world-changing effect of “fluting” on a fired round, or the spiderlike spread of the transcontinental railroad, the visually resplendent Story of Us is the equivalent of a history textbook as published by DK Books.

But the documentary is not all style. Narrated by Liev Schrieber (Salt), and with sound bites from prominent Americans including Tom Brokaw, Rudolph Guiliani, Henry Louis Gates, Donald Trump and many others, The Story of Us is always engaging and – gasp! – incredibly entertaining. Yes, there are dates and statistics, but also dramatizations featuring such icons as George Washington, Paul Revere, Daniel Boone, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.

Most importantly, events that shaped American history are put in the context of motivations and couched in human drama (and, frequently, human suffering, e.g. The Donner Party). The start of the American Revolution wasn’t so much about independence as about colonists preserving their lives and livelihoods; Westward expansion wasn’t fueled by the desire to explore, but by free land and the promise of gold and silver. These are things all viewers can relate to.

American ingenuity and inventiveness are showcased in awe-inspiring fashion, everything from the groundbreaking construction of Hoover Dam to the Interstate Highway System to the Saturn V rocket.

The TV series also excels at layering one topic on top of the other, so by the time we come to World War II, for example, we have a thorough understanding of where America was as a society leading up to our reluctant participation in the conflagration.

In high-definition Blu-ray, the picture looks amazing, particularly in postcard-like shots of wilderness or sweeping plains, but also when we’re looking at talking heads, dramatizations or CGI views of North America as it would look from space.

Spread across the three Blu-ray discs, special features are comprised of a handful of deleted sequences, each running about three minutes. It’s not much, nor is it particularly satisfying given the scope and ambition of the series.

Another drawback is the lack of any subtitles or foreign-language tracks. Unless you’re an English-speaking American with good hearing, the adventures that forged this nation will be lost on you.

Nonetheless, this set is a keeper, something the family can enjoy together now and be shared with the kids like the Encyclopaedia Britannica as they learn about American history in school.

 

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About Gary

Gary Frisch has been contributing laserdisc, DVD and Blu-ray reviews to Video Business magazine, Home Theater Magazine, Home Theater Buyer’s Guide, Stereophile Guide to Home Theater and the DVD Guide for more than 14 years. He still has a collection of more than 40 laserdiscs, along with a working auto-reverse LD player, but thinks Blu-ray is da bomb and anxiously awaits the original Star Wars trilogy so he can buy it for the fifth time.