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Crusades

Terry Jones , Anthony Smee , Alan Ereira , David Wallace    Unrated   VHS Tape
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)

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Of all the wars waged in the name of God, none has ever matched the arrogance and conceit of the Christian Crusades. For nearly two centuries (1095-1291), this medieval "holy war" variously raged, sometimes so spiritually misshapen by rapaciousness, murder, and political greed that to think it all had to do with Christian faith is absurd. And really, there is no one better to dramatize such a theater of holy war than Wales-born Terry Jones, host of The Discovery Channel's Ancient Inventions and an accomplished medievalist. Best known for his absurdist contributions to all things Monty Python--he was a founding member of Monty Python's Flying Circus and cowriter of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Life of Brian, and Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, among others--Jones wields an uncanny ability to explain the methodologies and madness of the Crusades while not failing us his sense of humor.

Jones wrote the scripts for each 50-minute presentation in the four volumes of The Crusades, which originally aired on The History Channel. His narration is not without an occasional sardonic air, almost of the roll-your-eyes type, which not only lends a skeptical perspective to a frequently misunderstood era in Western Europe, but also quite frequently editorializes the events that occurred between Pope Urban II's call for liberation of Jerusalem from the "infidels" of Islam and the embarrassing moment when officers of the fourth Crusade are conned out of its divine calling by the Venetians. While Jones's reconnaissance is sometimes oversimplified by casually not mentioning several Crusade sorties after the fourth (there were several, but by the 13th century they had become redolent of ennui and misguided commercial adventure), the technical ingenuity of the production and Jones's use of anecdote backed by academicians and preserved eyewitness accounts cinches a viewer's interest. Medieval "siege machines" are re-created to test their mettle against legends of famous battles, Jones dons real 11th- and 12th-century armor to demonstrate the outlandish appearance of Crusaders in the lands of Mohammed, mosaics come to life with body-painted characters of medieval fable, and computer graphics are deployed to re-create the interior of the great cathedral at Cluny.

All these elements are contrasted with intermezzos of contemporary European and Middle Eastern society and a moving original soundtrack to make The Crusades a thoroughly engaging documentary of the bloodletting of medieval Christian conquests and the ultimate result of Islamic fanaticism born from its crimson tide. In Jones's own words at the end of Volume IV: "It took 200 years for the Crusaders to create [this] Muslim fanaticism. It was the exact imitation of Christian intolerance." To understand the effects of the Crusades is to understand much of today's religious geography, and Mr. Jones and company can fairly lay claim to having helped set the record straight. --Jamie Friddle


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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Format:DVD
This set of two disks takes a very modern look at about two hundred years of history, but I am not going to remember which two hundred. It was so long ago that people no longer seem to be concerned about how everyone involved managed to absorb all of the financial costs involved. Warfare often upsets some apple carts, and this presentation of the Crusades is openly aware of aristocratic ambition that could be condemned as a desire for conquest while it remains mired in the inversion of spiritual values which prompted the institutional churches at that time to consider each pathetic episode a great thing for one reason or another.
My intellectual bias in this area is that no college professor could have made a better version of a history for our times. Back in 1995, the nature of the Order of Assassins with its suicide squads high from hashish was hardly as important as it is in the world since September 11, 2001, but on the other side, the financial suicide involved in trying to change the nature of the Middle East by military invasion was as clear then as more recent expeditions threatening to last another two hundred years boggle the mind today. I might be taking a stand that is too political for 2004, which might be a year in which people in America try to impose their own interest in intelligence, competence, and living within the limits of our ability to absorb losses. This series of television shows puts a lot of emphasis on the extraordinary wealth of Constantinople and Egypt in those times, when military equipment also had a high price. What really gets your goat the first time through this series, though, is the treachery: cities plundered, caravans attacked, truces violated, and hostages held for ransom.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining, perhaps; history, no. May 16 2002
Format:DVD
Negative reviews rarely get much support on Amazon but, at the risk of seeing "0 of [X] people found the following review helpful," be warned that this series contained much misinformation. The editorial review, which informs us that "to think it all had to do with Christian faith is absurd," is a tip-off. Yes, actually, it did have a great deal to do with the Christian faith and the European reaction to Muslim expansion. History is rarely well-served by the visual media, and especially not with such a complex subject. TV wants a good guy and a bad guy -- and so here the Muslims are the good guys and the Christians the bad; thirty years ago it might have been written the other way around and would have been just as misleading and anachronistic.
To understand the medieval mindset requires effort -- reading history (Crusade histories tend to be multi-volume and slow going for the casual reader) and thinking about it. To write off the Crusades as the atrocities of greedy, foolish white men requires only popping in a DVD and watching a comedian read a BBC script.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars DVD Quality ? May 27 2003
Format:DVD
For those who wish to buy this dvd-box ,
don't expect superior picture and sound quality because it looks like they have been copied from the VHS-tapes.
You can clearly see the overal vagueness and in the darker scenes where dvd's usually shine brighter than tapes ,you've got no improvement at all.
Also , u have to turn the sound up quite a bit to understand anything that is said and even then it's not great.
The only plus points to buying the dvd are the navigation menu ,less space than the tapes and no tape wear ,no rewinds.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and accurate for the most part June 4 2002
Format:DVD
Being a scholar of history and Medieval Europe in particular, I found this documentary rather accurate on most points, despite what a few of the previous reviewers have said. Also, it was very entertaining. You can't beat that combination.
The only real problemswith it, is that it is only 4 hours long, and therefore, takes some short-cuts, oversimplifies a few things and is not as in-depth as I would have liked it to have been.
That said, it is still mostly true to the sense of the Crusades that is conveyed in many historical accounts, while at the same time cutting away the Pro-European bias that is present in many texts.
Some of the "facts" that the previous reviewers have mentioned (such as: the Crusades being a response to the Muslim takeover of the Balkans, which in actuality did not occur until well in the 14th century. another is the statement that the Muslims who eventually took over the Balkans were motivated by Mohammed's original fervor, which is also not true as these Muslims were Turks who only recently converted to Islam), are not really facts, and are clearly motivated by unfounded Anti-Muslim sentiments. I suggest ignoring them.
All in all, this is a very informative and enjoyable DVD set.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Narrowly focused but still pretty good Feb. 24 2003
Format:DVD
"Crusades" does the basics well, better than most other television programs, while garnishing the outline with little, fascinating details. Still, you'll have to go to the library for a wider perspective. For starters, this series is top heavy; the first two episodes cover the First Crusade, the third races through the Second Crusade to get to Richard and Saladin, and the final episode concerns itself mainly with the Fourth Crusade, leaving the final 100 years of the Kingdom Acre 15-20 minutes of time.
Jones approaches his subject from what might be called a neo-European perspective, looking at the era mostly as two centuries of western interference in the Middle East. That's not necessarily a bad thing: in fact, it's perfect when Jones details Crusader horrors, giving them an immediate, in-our-streets quality. But the approach loses its footing when Jones explains the ambitions, the background and the people of the wars.
This leads to a few minor but irritating lapses. Jones sees the pope's political ambition as the sole spark of the First Crusade; you'd never know Christians and Muslims had fought each other in Spain for nearly 400 years by 1095. A statement by Saladin that his people had always been in possession of Palestine goes unchallenged (it's not like Jews lived there for 5,000 years or anything).
The biggest sins are errors of ommission. There's virtually nothing about the internal government of the Crusader states, the feudalization of Palestine or the fact they actually got along with their Muslim neighbors when their French and German brethren weren't leading cavalry charges across the sands. Worse, the Byzantine Empire is used solely to bookend the first and fourth crusades.
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Most recent customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Propaganda? Make no mistake about it?
Readers and viewers of this work should realize that history contains ugly realities to anyone's perspectives. Read more
Published on April 5 2004 by chris patterson
1.0 out of 5 stars As balanced as Humpty-Dumpty
Call this history? Try Monty Python and the Holy Grail for deeper insight, historical content and accuracy.
Published on Jan. 18 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars Giggle and Learn!
Who better than Terry Jones (Say no more, say no more, nudge nudge wink wink) to host a fresh look at warfare - in the name of Religion mind you - during the Middles Ages? Read more
Published on Jan. 16 2004 by Deborah MacGillivray
1.0 out of 5 stars Propaganda make no mistake about it
I purchased a copy of this DVD because I am a history buff. I don't think I have ever run into such intense anti-Christian propaganda. Read more
Published on Nov. 23 2003
1.0 out of 5 stars Could learn very little about crusades
If you want to learn something about the crusades you better look elsewhere.Terry Jones is slightly amuzing, however that is it. You don't have details . How many soldiers. Read more
Published on Feb. 23 2003 by Francisco Coutinho
5.0 out of 5 stars Skewering & Roasting the Byzantine Empire & Knight Errantry
Mark Twain would have loved this documentary. Jones who has decidedly Welsh roots and probably had ancestors involved in the crusades gives the crusades a new life in this great... Read more
Published on Jan. 2 2003 by Kelly Mathews
3.0 out of 5 stars Focus on the Positive
This video manages to teach a lot about the crusades in an engaging and amusing format. Unfortunately, the negative comments here about the politically correct anti-western,... Read more
Published on Sept. 14 2002
1.0 out of 5 stars Excruciatingly Simplistic (pun intended)
Watching the video, I almost felt I was watching an Islamic indoctrination tape. Jones's perspective is absolutely one-sided, and completely ignores the effect Islamic invasions... Read more
Published on Aug. 9 2002 by S. A. Labbe
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