Heritage: Civilization and the Jews (2001)

Directed by Julian Krainin, Eugene Marner, Alan Rosenthal & Marc Siegel
Hosted by Abba Eban


DVD-ROM Features:

  • Over 650 translated and annotated historical documents
  • 541 map views with over 2250 explanatory essays
  • 33 expert advisors/consultants from 21 universities and academic institutions
  • Over 3600 encyclopedia articles
  • Over 4000 captions for the episodes
  • Over 100 interactive multimedia presentations containing over 800 historical images
  • Bookmarking system
  • Help documentation
  • Ability to search pretty much everything on the disc by word or by category or by both
  • Anamorphic: N/A, appears in its original 1.33:1 format.

    My Advice: Own It.

    Originally airing in 1984, and recently updated to include up till the mid-90's, this mini-series sprawls across nine hours and five millennia as it tries to (and succeeds in) explaining civilization and the role that the religion of Judaism has played in it. The best part of the mini-series is just that, whereas one might expect simply a history of the Jews, it literally covers the interaction that these people have had with the rest of the world as civilization has progressed--and the effects both inside and outside the Jewish community.

    Hosted by Abba Eban, former Israeli ambassador to the United States (who can be spotted in archival footage in the later episodes), he is the only voice the viewer deals with for ninety percent of the time, apart from readings from historical documents by actors and actresses and then later, talking with Holocaust survivors and others in the later episodes. It's different from most of the documentaries out these days, which are populated by various experts. This takes a little getting used to, since you're stuck with Eban for nine-count-them-nine hours, but for some reason he sounds a little like Sir Anthony Hopkins to me, so it's quite doable.

    The set comprises pretty much what an entire college course would cover on the subject. It is so thorough that it's a little bit overwhelming, so it's recommended to take it in small doses. I've never seen something that used as many miles of footage and photos as this series does. In addition to the wealth provided by the series, each disc has an atlas and entries from the Encyclopedia Judaica. The atlas is very, very smooth. You select an entry and the timeline moves, so does the map as it zooms in on the area in question. Very nice. And more than a dozen of the encyclopedia/glossary entries help to sum up topics that were covered on the disc in question.

    The fourth disc, however, the DVD-ROM features, are where this set begins to get downright insane. When you install the program, you can elect to dump the whole shebang onto your hard drive. This would take about eight gigabytes of free space. Seeing that number most definitely got my attention. I went for a typical install--about two hundred megabytes.

    When the program starts, it comes up with three main choices: Atlas, Video and Index. Click on Atlas, and you very quickly find out what an immersive DVD experience truly is. You can pick pretty much anywhere in the world, at any time, and get the atlas to go there. Get confused as to where something is? You can click on "modern view" to fast forward to the present day to get your bearings. You can scroll through the time period and watch the world change. And you can zoom in to specific places on the world and see more detail. You could spend hours on the Atlas alone.

    On the Video side of things, it's revealed that all nine hours of the miniseries is on the DVD-ROM disc. And while watching it, you could see a "detailed view," which throws up subtitles on the screen for everything that you're seeing while the series is going on. And hey, if a topic comes up that you'd like to know more about--just click the "explore topic" towards the bottom of the screen.

    On the Index side of things, you can pretty much search on any date, any region and any subject, and get results ranging from encyclopedia entries to atlas entries to multimedia presentations to historical documents. Incredible.

    For the most part, I feel as though I could probably pass a final exam in a course on Jewish history at this point. The set is extremely impressive. It takes topics that I've never seen covered and subjects that have been handled many times before and makes them equally compelling. Even-handed, well thought out, and extremely informative--this is easily the best documentary set I've ever had the pleasure of watching. Highly recommended.

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