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New Video presents
Conquest of America (2005)

"Thus, one of the first areas in the United States to be explored is the last to be conquered."
- narrator Jeffrey Wright

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: September 15, 2005

Stars: Jeffrey Wright, narrator
Director: Rocky Collins, Lisa Quijano Wolfinger, Tony Bacon

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 03h:00m:00s
Release Date: August 30, 2005
UPC: 733961728583
Genre: television


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B A-B-B B-

DVD Review

The History Channel often has a way of making the act of wanting to learn exciting rather than a chore, marketing their original programming with the intense hyperbole of theatrical feature films. They're up to their old tricks with Conquest of America, a four-part series about the assorted explorers who set foot in the so-called New World, from the mid-1500s on through the 1700s. You get your marquee names out of history (Coronado, Cook, Hudson) and a few lesser-known (Ribault, Bering, Menendez), and their stories of exploration get divvied into four separate episodes: Southwest, Southeast, Northeast and Northwest.

The content is supposedly based on original Spanish records and Native American oral histories, so instead of a dull, dry overview, a lot of the material offers a more intimate look at the multitude of characters (yes, there are reenactments with costumed actors), buttressed by an array of historians who fill in some of the cracks and the somber, sonorous narration of Jeffrey Wright. The historical elements are painted in an almost edge-of-the-seat thriller manner, and even knowing my history fairly well, I sometimes found myself wondering if the outcome was somehow going to be different than the way I learned about it. The flow of each 44-minute episode meanders into small details about the lives of the Russian, Spanish, Danish, British, and Native Americans, before pulling back to get a glimpse of the bigger picture.

Disc 1 covers the Southwest and the Southeast, and is probably one of the more exciting chapters as it covers Francisco Vasquez de Coronado's search for the legendary Seven Cities of Gold in 1540 (that's Indiana Jones territory), and then segueing into France's Jean Ribault and his battle against the Spanish at Fort Caroline in Florida. Disc 2 looks at the Northeast and the Northwest, with Spaniards and Russians having some major issues with each other, but also brings to life Danish navigator Vitas Bering and his mission to explore new water routes, as California was up for grabs even as our own Declaration of Independence was being signed on the opposite end of the country.

Production values are decent, with a wealth of unknown actors playing the roles of the principal characters, often while narration or accented voiceovers describe what's occurring, either from journals or from historian's interpretations. The reenactment angle is the only loose spot in this entire series, because I always tend to fixate on the costumes, wondering if someone custom made them or if they were rented, and it can take me out of the moment. There is, however, a lot of information here, presented in an easy to follow manner, making this indispensable as an aid for those pesky homework assignments you or your kids might get saddled with.

Or maybe, like me, you can't get enough of Coronado and Seven Lost Cities of Gold.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

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


Image Transfer Review: The series has been issued in 1.33:1, and the image detail is a bit on the soft side, lacking the crispness seen on other History Channel DVD releases. Colors can look bright at times, but much of the time hues look subdued and dark.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: All four episodes are presented with a simple and serviceable 2.0 stereo track, one that delivers clean, booming narration from Jeffrey Wright. Pleasant and full, without any significant dramatics to make it anything but satisfyingly average.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
2 Documentaries
Packaging: Boxed Set
Picture Disc
2 Discs
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: There are a pair of making-of docs (originally broadcast as 30-minute History Channel "programs"), with Disc 1 containing Behind the Scenes: Conquering the East (21m:43s) and Disc 2 housing Behind the Scenes: Conquering the West (21m:40s). Both are presented in nonanamorphic widescreen, and address the challenges of assembling an accurate history of the time, creating the proper look.

Each of the four segments are cut into six chapters each.

Extras Grade: B-

 

Final Comments

I'm not a big fan of watching reenactments, but I guess sometimes they're unavoidable when the subject is set in the 1500-1700s. The info presented in this four-part series on the various forces that staked a claim on early America is never dull if, history gets you excited, that is.

 


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