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America: The Story of Us (Blu-ray)


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Review

With 12 chapters spread out over three discs and a total running time of more than nine hours (not including bonus material), the History Channel''s America: The Story of Us is a sprawling primer on the history of the country and its people. Starting about 100 years after Columbus with the arrival of the earliest white settlers from across the Atlantic and finishing in the present day, the series can boast episodes devoted to major conflicts like the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and World War II; the more gradual but still significant developments that helped shape the nation (like western expansion and the mass migration to major cities); and the various elements and forces (the discovery of oil; the growth of industry, engineering, and infrastructure; the development of the automobile and other means of mass transportation, and, of course, the accumulation of vast economic and military might) that combined to make the United States the world''s dominant superpower in the 20th century and beyond. To the filmmakers'' credit, the darker aspects of this history--slavery and racial strife, the treatment of Native Americans, the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII--are not given short shrift. And while much of the material is dealt with in fairly broad strokes, there are also various enlightening details in each chapter. Who knew that George Washington established a network of spies who wrote notes in invisible ink in order to deceive the British, or that the most valuable currency for those who first explored the West was beaver pelts?

A combination of reenactments, photos, CGI, models, and other elements delivers a great deal of information here, along with frequent references to Americans'' pioneer spirit, devotion to hard work, and belief that if you can dream it, you can do it. Yet this isn''t an especially scholarly document. The events depicted, from the Boston Tea Party and Paul Revere''s midnight ride to the Alamo and the Gettysburg Address, not to mention more lurid tales like the Donner Party and the St. Valentine''s Day Massacre, should be familiar to those with even a cursory knowledge of US history. The emphasis on star power, be it the comments from a parade of talking heads including actors, musicians, politicians (President Barack Obama among them), athletes, soldiers, and so on, or the focus on charismatic historical figures like John Brown, Daniel Boone, and many others, reflects our celebrity-obsessed culture. And the constant hyperbole (narrator Liev Schreiber intones some variation of "What''s about to happen will change things forever!" at least half a dozen times in the first episode alone) becomes tedious. Then again, considering the number of Americans who can''t find their own country on a map, presenting the material like a dramatic TV show instead of textbook was a shrewd idea. --Sam Graham

Release Note

From executive producer Jane Root of Planet Earth, comes the breathtaking journey through history--unlike any other in the past 40 years--with live-action recreations of key historical events through the use of cutting edge CGI animation, giving viewers an immersive view of history in the making.


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