With its bold promise and provocative title, the History Channel documentary "History of the World in Two Hours" has a lot to live up to. But seriously, anyone who thinks this will be a complete or comprehensive chronicle of almost 14 billion years is probably setting their expectations a little high. For one thing, as this aired on the History Channel with commercials--it actually boils down to 88 minutes from start to finish! Heck, who needs a full two hours? The title is a teaser, a novelty. This is a breezy and entertaining trip through history that starts with concepts related to the formation of earth and ends in contemporary society. In between, we hit certain highlights from the realms of chemistry, biology, astrophysics, paleontology, anthropology and history that help to overview key components that made life possible, sustainable, and able to evolve into its recognizable modern configuration. Certainly, this isn't an in-depth analysis of any one thing in particular, it's just a quick glimpse of important elements that were vital in shaping the earth as we know it.
Perhaps the strongest aspect of "History of the World in Two Hours" comes in its early segments when we're discussing how certain elements were formed that contributed to earth being a viable planet on which life could thrive. The sciences combine to form an intriguing tale of evolution and I like that the piece shows how the physical composition of the atmosphere changed, gives the reasons behind it, and points to future consequences. As the documentary progresses, however, the components can become a bit more hit or miss. And while it seems rather cursory and simplistic, the dispersal of humans, the growth of civilizations, and the union of the continents through exploration give one a lot to think about. Very little time is spent on the modern world as we are still but a blip on the scale of history, and again we're left with random points of significance.
I don't know that if you're looking for a serious study of complex topics that "History of the World in Two Hours" will fulfill all your needs. It is meant for the more casual viewer. It might serve as a nice introduction for some, or an interesting conversation starter for others. Employing the trademark History Channel CGI effects and plenty of quick cut editing, the film flies by at a rapid pace and is great to look at. At the end of the day, I may not have learned much new from this documentary--but it was never less than fascinating to see what someone else thought were the high points in nearly 14 billion years of existence. Thoroughly entertaining, occasionally enlightening, this is a fun overview as long as your expectations are realistic. At 88 minutes, it's quite a ride. KGHarris, 3/12.