Written by: Terry Jones & David Ereira
Directed by: Alan Ereira & David Wallace
Starring: Terry Jones
- Historical timeline
- Terry Jones Biography/Filmography
Released by: History Channel
Rating: NR; mostly family-safe
Anamorphic: N/A, appears in its original 1.33:1 format.
My Advice: Own it
I don’t remember much of what I learned in high school about the Crusades. I’m sure I’d recall a great deal more if in my history class the teacher had presented the subject matter as clearly and interestingly as it is in this series. It does a wonderful job of presenting the background and events that led up to and fanned the flames of the Crusades, as well as giving insight into the minds and lives of the people who lived and died in their wake. This series would be a valuable resource to any teacher (or student) looking for an interesting route to study this part of history.
[ad#longpost]Jones (veteran of the Python troupe) not only narrates the series, but walks through many of the significant locations of the Crusades, such as fortresses and churches, to give the viewer a better understanding of where these events took place. In addition, there are multiple historians and scholars from Europe and the Middle East who add the opinions and viewpoints of the historical record and how the events of the Crusades are viewed in today’s light.
To examine how the events were perceived by the people living through them, the series submits quite a bit of information. In addition to artwork depicting battles and other events of the Crusades, there are first-hand accounts of these events from documents of the time. The source material used in the series is very artfully presented. Some are voiceovers of a journal entry or some other such chronicle from the era, and some are “performed” by actors who look as though they have stepped out of a Byzantine mosaic. This adds a creative dimension to the facts covered by Jones and the historians featured, and makes the actual people involved in the Crusades seem all the more real.
In addition to the presentation of primary documents from the time, Jones demonstrates how the people in the time of the Crusades lived. These demonstrations include experiencing a Turkish bath, building a catapult, and personally testing an account of whether or not King Richard was able to wade from a boat to the shore in his heavy armor. In addition, he visits places such as a spice market and a cafÃ© where a storyteller is giving an account of battles of the Crusades, showing the Western audience places with which they may not be so familiar. These experiments and “slice of life” moments give the viewer a bit of insight into how things worked in this period. And because Terry Jones presents this series, there is a lot of humor inserted. From his interview with the descendent of a divinely inspired goose to a propagandistic newsreel encouraging people to fight in the Holy Land, Jones adds a bit of lightheartedness to an otherwise pretty depressing subject.
The only thing that I took issue with in the content of the series is that the fifth through the seventh Crusades were totally skimmed over, including the “Children’s Crusade,” which I would have liked to learn more about. However, these are briefly described in the timeline on the DVD. Still, while we’re talking about the timeline, I would have liked to see more detail presented in it. I would also dearly love to have seen a behind-the-scenes featurette or documentary because of all of the interesting places and people encountered in the series. Unfortunately, because it originally aired in 1995, I doubt I’ll be getting my wish. The Terry Jones Biography/Filmography was interesting; for example, did you know that he has written children’s books?
This series was so skillfully assembled and presented that I would recommend that anyone teaching or studying the Crusades own it. As for the rest of us, definitely rent it, and if you’re a history buff or Terry Jones fanatic, go ahead and own it. I know I’ll be watching my copy again some time.