Like so many other viewers, I came round to viewing EXPO - The Magic of the White City ("EXPO") because I read The Devil in the White City (The White City) first. Sort of. Actually, my wife read The White City years after I did and, her curiosity piqued, rented the DVD.
EXPO is about the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, an exposition of such majesty, scope, corruption, and expense that it is a feat unparalleled in America today. The closest we have to the Fair is Disney World, a lineage most explicitly drawn in The White City; Walt Disney's father, Elias, was a construction worker on some of the buildings at the fair.
EXPO is narrated by Gene Wilder. I'm admit to a bias - I'm a big fan of Young Frankenstein and he's the only "celebrity sighting" I've ever encountered in real life. Wilder's getting on in age (the DVD was produced in 2005), so there's now a bit of a whistle to his speech. Still, his lilting voice has enough emotion and wry humor to make his narration enjoyable. And there is a lot of narration.
We tend to think of previous American centuries as quaintly backward, where such modern notions as political correctness and global unity didn't exist. And while EXPO is careful to point out that American culture still had its own foibles and intolerance endemic to the time, the World's Fair put all those to shame. It was a global unification of wealth, prosperity, and cultural exchange in a way that's inconceivable in today's contentious world. We can learn a lot from the Chicago World's Fair.
EXPO uses old maps and photographs to detail events at the fair whenever possible, with few computer graphics or animation. There are occasional shots of live actors, none whom particularly add anything of value to the narrative. In fact, it's clear that the producers felt that the medium was a little dry, because there are copious live action shots of a belly dancer interspersed with discussion of the Midway.
Minor quibbles aside, EXPO works overtime to try to encompass the grandeur of such a huge undertaking without losing sight of the details. As a result, it necessarily glosses over some pieces (rampant corruption, the aforementioned Devil himself who is the subject of The White City book) and emphasizes others (global diversity, architecture, and the first appearances of American staples). That's okay though; EXPO is a huge undertaking with such a sweepingly broad subject that it's better served as a companion piece to a book. Like The Devil in the White City.