on June 4, 2002
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.
on May 27, 2003
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.
on February 24, 2003
"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. The Emperor Manuel breathed new life into the Kingdom Jerusalem with his diplomacy and warfare in the 1160s, and hastened its collapse with his overreach in the 1170s. None of this warrants comment.
That's ultimately the weakness of this series -- the history mostly serves Jones' hypothesis that Christian extremism created Muslim extremism, a reasonable if simplistic conclusion from the era. It's more a failing of the medium, though; 200 minutes isn't nearly enough time for a subject like this. A thorough exploration would require a multi-hour, Ken Burns timeframe. But "Crusades" is visually inventive, and Jones is a cheerful and well-informed host who smartly uses the landscape and architecture of the Middle East to make his points. As a primer, it works.
on September 1, 2001
This documentary is so funny, it is almost cruel. After all, the Crusades were very serious affairs (God, country, heathens, invasions, and so on), so what is Terry Jones of "Monty Python" fame doing here, leading the new barbarians of the West in a Quest for the Greater Glory of God and a little bit of plunder? Well, he, and the whole BBC-A&E production team, are taking us to a journey Eastward, retracing the steps of the medieval pilgrim-soldiers, ignorant peasants and nobles alike who invaded Levant because they were religious zealots, greedy, and unscrupulous. Does this sound a bit one-sided? It is, and that is the only problem with this very entertaining and educational documentary: in their attempt to be fair to the Arab/Moslem side, the producers have ended up taking sides, which is not very susprising since the historical bulk comes from the late Sir Steven Runciman, one of the most respected and most widely read historians of the Crusades, whose bias against the "Franks" and for the Byzantines, is evident once one reads his great "History of the Crusades." Jonathan Riley-Smith attempts to balance the story with his commentaries, and it is no secret that his sympathies are with the Crusaders, but the program is structured in such a way that not even Riley-Smith's input saves it from being tilted. Terry Jones is simply outstanding with his British (Welsh) accent and deadpan humor as the perfect guide in this tour.
The Crusades were far more complicated than the simplistic Bad Guys (ignorant Europeans/Christians) against the Good Guys (enlightened Arabs/Moslems) picture would make us believe. Historical perspective helps us see the Crusades as a chapter in the (sometimes quite deadly) embrace of two world religions. Long periods of peace are punctuated by terrible periods of war and invasion. The Moslems got the ball rolling when they invaded the Christian lands of North Africa, Spain, and the Bizantine Empire. It took a while for the Christians to counterattack (just as it took a --shorter-- while for the Moslems to react to the Crusaders). When the Christians finally went on the offensive, their timing was not the best, and their choice of tactics was very questionable. Christendom was extremely intolerant back then, so everybody who was not a Christian, and many who were the "wrong" kind of Christian, were immediately suspect and dealt with mercilessly. What the program fails to mention is that Europe always had voices of dissent, and not all Crusaders were murdering barbarians, as not all Popes were conniving greedy zealots. The program also fails to provide the true historical setting of the Crusades: after the Crusaders were defeated, the Moslem world advanced into Europe from the East and South, and it remained in Western Europe (Iberian Peninsula) until the late 15th century. It was not until the late 17th century that the Ottoman Turks retreated from the siege of Vienna. The Crusades were a chapter in this stormy relationship of European Christianity and Islam. The producers of the documentary would have served their viewers better by being less politically correct. The slef-flagellation is appropiate and even funny in the hands of Terry Jones, but sometimes too much of a good thing is just too much.
Still, "Crusades" is an excellent program, mostly because I am sure it will interest people who otherwise would have never bothered with medieval history or the Crusades in particular. This documentary is the perfect place to start a healthy interest in history. I also recommend (in book format) Steven Runciman's "History of the Crusades" 3 volumes (try to get the Folio Society Edition: the prints are in color and the binding is superb); "The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades," and "The Atlas of the Crusades," both edited by Riley-Smith; "The Cross and the Crescent," by Malcolm Billings; "The Dream and the Tomb," by Robert Payne; "The Oxford Illustrated History of Medieval Europe," edited by George Holmes; and "The Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages," edited by Norman F. Cantor. For an interesting thesis that I find flawed, check Karen Armstrong's "Holy War." For a magnificent history of Islam, nothing better than "Islam: Art and Architecture," edited by Hattstein and Delius. And anything written by Professor Bernard Lewis on Islam, the Arabs, the Turks, the Jews, or the Middle East in general, is uniformly good.
on January 16, 2004
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?
Rather conceited, in the name of reclaiming the Holy Lands (excuse for adventure and to loot!) - The Church not only encouraged the Crusades but sponsored them! It was a way a Knight could pay dispensation for sins of life and earn his way to heaven - by lopping of the heads of the Infidel (and stealing everything they had). For Centuries, involving the royal heads of France, Britain and Europe, the seemingly endless Crusades raged on and on. So who better to explain the unexplainable madness, but the head jester himself!
Terry Jones wrote each episode and starred as the host, trying to muddle through the mounds of nonsense involved everything connected to the religious sponsored mayhem. With his brilliantly incisive humour that made Monty Python was it was, he dons chain mail and pointy toe armour and has it.
It is great fun for the whole family and a painless way to have a good introduction to the Crusades.
on January 2, 2003
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 roasting. Are you a person with a wicked fun sense of humor, have gothic and medievel tastes?
When you hear certain family members or people you respect as your friends boast about America going on a "new crusade" over in the middle east do you cringe in embarassment over their ignorance and wish you had something up your sleeve to show memebers of you family or friends who purport themselves to be somewhat intelligent? (Personally I always wonder how they'd react to someone saying let's have a "new inquisition" because there are to many different Christian religions or a "new witch hunt" because of the mother goddess religion and midwife revival.) Then this vid's for you.
In a nutshell, Jones points out how when people were first recruited to fight the crusades, it was the first major propaganda trip Europe had ever seen. The vast ignorance of most of those who joined the fight is pointed out, as is the the vast difference in educational differences between the Byzantines, Western Europeans, and Middle-Easterners. For instance, by the time the crusaders reached Jerusalem for the first time the emperor and pope didn't really want the crusaders in the middle east anymore.
Also, the first people the crusaders attacked were: in Germany, the Jews, and when the crusader reached the middle east a Christian Church. One of my favorite spots is how in their first real battle against the Muslims, all the Muslims rode mares and the Europeans stallions and the battle went rather embarassingly . . . .
It is startling for the educated mind, to see how a culture once as educated and intellectual as the middle east once was has now slipped into such horrible ignorance and intolerance. To think if it wasn't for the middle-eastern scholars we wouldn't have what we now do of Greek philosophy brought back by the crusaders' ransacking.
There are is another entertaining device Jones uses as well: paintings that come to life in a creepy, shivery way.
I don't have a problem with the over all length, because I watched it when it was first marketed on VHS, and it was segmented into a few tapes, so I knew it was meant to be viewed either separatley or together. That's what's great about DVD: it's so flexible. You can skip to whatever section you want, or watch the whole thing through without getting up and putting a tape in.
Crusades is a fresh take on the crusades, that merits watching for all the right reasons. If you like Daria or Python you'll like this. I recommend, in addition to this if you like medievel historical vids with a twist, to check out Nuns: Behind the Veil. That video chronicles female spirituality struggles in Ireland and greater Europe. (I reviewed that as well, so you can click on my reviews and it will pop up.)
Crusades is watched by seniors in at my local high school around here, though they must've stopped it before the end, because there is one part some parents might want to know about: at the very end, when they show how the crusades ended they talk about how the Byzantine empire was ruled by a courtesan and they show her in the throne room and she's ahh, topless. Painted all blue like Mystique, from the X-men, but bare-breasted.
on March 10, 2002
History is a major interest of mine; therefore I find historical documentaries to be very entertaining. I collect them and even enjoy watching some of them more than once. Unfortunately though, I was very disappointed at this particular one.
The first thing that bothered me was the visual presentation. For some reason the producers thought that it would be more entertaining to show images of current day Muslims and their homes and activities while telling the story of their ancestors. And even though this mightï¿½ve been a cool idea have it been presented for a few minutes once or twice, but to be used as the rule turned out to be very distracting. When I watch ï¿½Rome: Power and Gloryï¿½ I donï¿½t expect them to show me modern Europeans while telling me stories about Romans! I prefer to watch true Roman antiquities and arts! After all, this is a historical documentary, isnï¿½t it?
The second thing that truly annoyed me was the narrator, Jones. Youï¿½ll waste considerable time watching him walk around the desert wearing medieval warriorsï¿½ armor, but thatï¿½s not even the worst! Youï¿½ll get bored to the skull watching him bargain with a mule-owner to buy his mule, or him waiting for a poor lady to make him domestic bread, or him sitting among the audience of an Arabian storyteller telling a story of a legendary war hero! In addition, I found his supposedly humorous presentation of the events to be an interest-killer!
I found nothing in this work to make me cut the producers any slack! The music was [not produced well], the added features were uninformative and useless, and they couldï¿½ve saved us shelf-space have they recorded the documentary on a one double-sided DVD rather than two DVDs!
I guess my tone reveals my bitterness over the purchase of this DVD, which, I admit, is true for the reasons above. I do understand though that the things I complained about could be found to be entertaining by others thus please read my review objectively.
on September 14, 2002
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, crusader, Christian, etc. tilt are mostly right on the mark. My recommendation: watch it for the 90% entertaining and informative part and tune out when he gets to the inevitable, skewed and (the worst offense of all) tedious white-man's guilt part.
on April 7, 2002
The Crusades DVD leaves out the half of the story where a man known as a prophet named Mohammed comes to town and says "Wage war against infidels" is his holy book, the islamic Koran. He commands them to fight and subjugate other people. So they go into half of Europe and take over the Balkans and Spain, setting the stage for eons of bloodshed that continue today. Then over several hundred years the Christians drive them out of their land. At this point, in walks Terry Jones's DVD and declares the evil Christians barbarians against the noble muslim. It doesn't surprise me that a band of Germans sacked constantinople in light of their deeds in the 20th Century.
Near Eastern Christians are ignored in textbooks too for lack of time and space to discuss them. What is emphasized most strongly is the moral superiority of "natives," non-Christians, and nontraditional Christians. Secondly, the victimization of culturally superior Moslems by ethnocentric Westerners whose crudeness is equaled only by their love of violence and cunning. Lastly, any questioning of this thesis is dismissed as racism. Jones's strongly antiwar BBC series praised Baibar's use of slave troops against the crusaders. What would he have said if crusaders had adopted that practice? On the whole, Jones is far the better scholar (and arguably the better actor), but he remains a child of the sixties--like so many of us who are active teachers today. (William Urban, Monmouth College)
Besides the Catholics there were other bands of mystic Christians during the Middle Ages whose milder history is never told because of the inquisition's burning of books. Jones ridicules Christian's beliefs and All in all is is a very simplified and politically-correct view of history. Try this book instead: Billings, Malcolm. The Crusades: Five Centuries of Holy Wars, Sterling, 1996. (Published in England as The Cross and the Crescent.)
on December 11, 2000
Other reviewers have stated that if you are serious about learning all you can regarding the crusades, you should skip this book.
I have quite a bit of knowledge on the subject, and found this book quite enjoyable. Instead of the usual dry, slightly boring books that try to remain as objective as possible, Jones and Ereira come out swinging.
They make no pretense about being *the* authoritative source for knowledge on the subject, saying just the opposite, and thereby allowing me to relax and enjoy the reading. They also apply a liberal amount of dry wit and biting sarcasm to point out the fanatical lunacy that the crusades inspired.
I was actually suprised by the amount of factual evidence and written documentation from that time that Jones and Ereira dug up and used. They indeed did their homework before setting things down on paper. Nice chronology and maps accompany traditional artwork depicting various scenes from the crusades.
I recommend picking this one up if you are just casually looking for information on the crusades, or if you've done exhausting research on the subject (you could use the break!)
And if you can, pick up the video series. The series is quite informative and very entertaining!