How the Earth Changed History (Blu-ray Review)

With what seems like a rapid fire release, the BBC has brought us yet another high definition documentary, joining the ranks of their other prominent films such as the recent Life.  This latest addition to the education BBC family is titled How the Earth Changed History and its audiences are guided through the two hour journey by Scottish host, Iain Stewart.  This 2-disc set joins an already impressive and heralded array of documentaries in the BBC lineup as their goal of continuing education is carried out here. Stewart’s exuberance on the subject matter is obvious as he pours his heart and personal interest into the delivery of this learning trip that spans the globe.


Most documentaries involving societies and cultures focused on how a group established themselves and grew from there, or maybe how another group rose to prominence, only to fall from grace.  Although, with so many documentaries out there covering such material, few ever focused on the “why’s” of these actions.  If an empire was successful in a particular region, why did it get up and move?  How did non-threatening foreign forces screw things up for existing cultures that were surviving just fine on their own?  Inquiries like these are covered in How the Earth Changed History.

For instance, if I mention the Sahara Desert, the first thing that comes to mind of most is a barren wasteland of sand and blistering heat.  While that is very much the case of the Sahara, it was once home to pockets of thriving tribes.  The proof they left behind can be found in the etchings of massive rocks located in the Sahara.  These stone pictures reveal entities no longer present there, such as giraffes, people and a bountiful river that once meandered through the landscape.  The only proof of this today are the aforementioned carvings and satellite images that show the scars of a river that once graced that environment.

So what’s the point of that?  Over time, the rains stopped and the river dried.  A peaceful and surviving society had to move, as did the animals that once fed there.  It was the Earth that forced those people to leave and settle elsewhere, blending their history with that of other cultures.  This title opens up on several eye-opening occurrences that often helped or hindered man and, causing humans and wildlife alike to adjust to the changing conditions around them.  The program does not just focus on environmental hardships though.

Take for instance in Cherrapunji where the wet season produces monsoons of incessant precipitation, often causing streams and rivers to crest, separating areas of land.  How do the locals get around this?  They let Mother Nature sort it out.  With the vast levels of rain, vegetation can grow at accelerated rates.  One magnificent example are the root bridges, formed from the bases of forest trees that are more than strong enough to support the weight of an entire village’s habitants crossing all at once.   Thus, these people were able to continue to flourish in their current areas since they were not environmentally secluded.  These root bridges are their routes of travel, even today.

How the Earth Changed History is comprised of two discs, each run about 59 minutes excluding the featurette content found on disc 2.  Disc one covers Deep Earth, Wind, and Water, while the second disc features Fire and Human Planet.  As mentioned earlier, host Iain Stewart comes across quite interested and sincere in his duties here.  The downside is it’s poured on a little thick throughout the production’s runtime.  The upside is you’ll probably get used to it after a short time.  It took me about 15 minutes or so to actually get drawn in by the content and not so distracted by Stewart’s overly excited voice.  One other negative is finding that the content didn’t always match up with the subject heading.  For instance, earlier I spoke about the scenario in the Shahara.  That’s the first piece on disc one.  If you look at the actual disc, it lists the first piece of subject matter as Deep Earth.  At the least, it’s a minor bit of confusion.  At the most, some might develop a little frustration at the labeling.

The biggest problem lies within the flow of the film.  It just doesn’t have the punch and zip that Life does, and even outside of comparing it to other titles, it still lacks in some way that I just cannot put my finger on.  It has some good content in there, but I do question the some of the content with the title of the film.  I began asking myself in some cases, “Is this really how Earth changed history, or how man changed Earth?”


There are only minor moments of grain in this AVC encode and 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  As the BBC has often shown in Planet Earth and Life, they bring out the best of nature’s blast of color.  Some of the smallest details are picked up, such as individual grains of sand and the tiniest suds of steaming sea foam as lava pours into the ocean.  You should not find the grain to be a distracting factor at all here.  The quality of the video here is only outdone by that of Life as far as the BBC library goes.


Pumping through your speakers in the DTS HD Master Lossless Audio format, you will find what is arguably the best sound experience from BBC’s works.  As host Stewart makes his way through a jungle, you can hear the gentle yet very noticeable audible accents of trickling water through the rear channels.  This kind of thing is something that was meekly utilized in previous nature documentaries from any company or studio.  It is made use of in this film and if there is any drawback to the audio, I just wish the rear channels were made use of even more.

I give the BBC big kudos here and it’s oh-so-close to getting a score of 5, but there really is no reason the back speakers shouldn’t be used at every possible chance.  Yes, I know there is always some sound being generated through them, however, it doesn’t impress viewers much if it’s the same sound coming through the front as it is through the back.  The trickling effect I mentioned was great. It was its own unique aspect that wasn’t just repeating what was in front of you.

Special Features

The extra content can be found on disc 2 and is broken up into three parts.  All three split between production footage and a candid office interview with host Iain Stewart. Sadly, everything is in standard definition and while Stewart’s thoughts and experiences are interesting to listen to, they do not run very long.
The Crystal Caves – Host Iain Stewart talks about the time when he walked through an accidental find; a room adjacent to a silver mine where featuring massive pillars of beautiful crystal (8:37).
Walking Through the Fire – Stewart discusses working with a fire department in Mississippi where he was outfitted in a bulky flame-retardant suit.  He then took a leisurely stroll through a path of flames that topped 1800 degrees Fahrenheit (7:47).
• Paragliding – Here we find our host strapped in a chair with an engine, guided by a pilot and a parachute in Iceland (2:36).

Final Thoughts

How the Earth Changed History is definitely worth a viewing and it’s almost guaranteed you will get an education here.  From underwater caves to rain-deprived landscapes, viewers will get to learn how and why societal history turned out the way it did in certain parts of the world.  This is content for the entire family can appreciate and is money well spent on a rental.  As far as a purchase goes, I would only recommend this to the science-faithful.


Bring home BBC’s How The Earth Changed History!



1 Response to “How the Earth Changed History (Blu-ray Review)”

  1. Brian White

    That crystal caves featurette sounds interesting, but it sux only in SD there 🙁