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A&E Home Video presents
The First Olympics (2004)

"Relive the first Olympics, savage competitions where naked athletes risked their lives, and the victors were honored almost as Gods."
- narration

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: June 30, 2004

Director: various

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 02h:17m:00s
Release Date: June 29, 2004
UPC: 733961711615
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C+ C+BB D-

DVD Review

With the return of the Olympics to Greece in 2004, it seems fitting for The History Channel to gather up three separate documentaries outlining the history of the spectacle into one package. Over the course of just over two hours, we are reminded that in the original games the athletes performed nude and that the winners were elevated to near God-like status, which is much like today—minus the nude part, of course.

Here's a snapshot of the three programs included here:

The First Olympics (43m:16s)
An installment of the In Search of History series, this 1997 doc is the most informative of the lot, probably due in large part to the fact that it shows up first on the navigation menu. Lots of chatter about nekkid athletes, and how they were all competing for perceived immortality. A scholar chimes in periodically with relevant nuggets, such as the origins of the "agony," but most of the show discusses the events themselves, including the long-lost sport of bull jumping.

Blood and Honor at the Olympics (46m:17s)
Narrated by Leonard Nimoy, this entry has the misfortune of repeating much of the same material from The First Olympics, featuring plenty of recycled footage, including the very same interview segment with a stuffy academic discussing the origins of the word "agony." I'm kind of surprised that this one was included, as it is blatantly redundant and repetitive. I'm not sure which program came first, but one of the two has borrowed a smudge too liberally from the other.

The Greek Gods (43m:10s)
This one is less about the games as it is about the mythical (or were they?) gods who looked down from Mt. Olympus on the proceedings. Familiar names like Zeus, Poseidon, Apollo, and Aphrodite are bandied about, and my ears perked up slightly with the mention of "orgiastic cults" and the like. If you're looking to refresh your knowledge of Greek Gods 101, this In Search of History episode will do the trick, even if you don't walk away with much in the way of specific Olympic knowledge.

The biggest problem with all three of these programs is that they have to rely on the frequent use of having to pan across old drawings and paintings, intercut with a brief re-enactment or two to liven up the visuals. This effect gets especially stiff well before the time the second doc even starts, and by then it is more of the same for the duration.

Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: C+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: All episodes are presented in their original 1.33:1 full-frame aspect ratio. As with other History Channel releases, the quality is consistent and an improvement over your mediocre cable signal.

No complaints.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: Audio is just fine, presented here in a more than adequate 2.0 stereo mix. Narration, especially the booming voice of Peter Ackroyd, come across effectively clean and distortion-free.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Top Medal Rankings
Extras Review: The only extra here are two text screens outlining the top medal ranking, by country, for the 1896 Olympics.

Each of the three docs are cut into six chapters.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

Not the strongest effort from The History Channel, The First Olympics is an occasionally repetitive collection of three separate programs, all covering the origins of the global sporting event. All told, there are some hearty factoids, but the overall presentation gets a bit dreary by the end.


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