Studio: A&E Home Video
DVD Release Date: July 27, 2010
Online Availability: Amazon for $14.91
Sometimes literature should remain as such and not be set to the strict standards of living history. That is how I felt when watching the latest installation in the Instant Expert series; Instant Expert: Beowulf. I remember reading about Beowulf when I was in high school. We were never required to read the text, which is said to have been written somewhere between 700 CE and 1000 CE, but I knew what the story was about. I have long been a lover of literature, so I sought out this Old English, epic poem, as I felt it was my duty to at least read it once. This was, of course, before bad movies were made on the subject matter.
I have to admit, I’ve been rather fond of the Instant Expert series. I have had the chance to watch all six of the titles we’ve received to review from A&E. I am quite fond of the Instant Expert: Egypt and even the helpfulness in Instant Expert: The Mayflower, when homeschooling our son. However, I was disappointed in this series installment. This is probably because there is no proof Beowulf ever existed. I have always considered his story to be an epic legend or myth. I found the idea of including something like the story of Beowulf, superfluous, especially in a series that seems to be attempting to root these Instant Expert stories within history.
I enjoyed watching some of the episodes from Clash of the Gods, especially those about actual Greek mythology, but Beowulf never fit in here, and I felt it weakened the series. Further, the entire purpose of the Clash of the Gods series is to take what is known about popular Greek myths and link them to actual places and events in Greek history, in attempt to possibly explain their actual existence. With the Instant Expert series, each DVD is supposed to be a teaching tool that can be used to teach students. These two formats do not mesh well together and do not bode well for a story like Beowulf which 1. is not a Greek myth, 2. is not about Gods, 3. has no historical basis, and never did, so why bother researching it as though it does(?) and 4. was not really designed to be used as a teaching tool, because most teachers teach it as the legend it is, not as a conspiracy theorist’s dream of reality.
Back in Ancient times, people really believed in the Greek myths, and some still do today, though in smaller numbers. However, Beowulf has always been viewed as an epic, fictional poem. From what we know of history, there was no belief that Beowulf really killed Grendel and his mother or that any of them even really existed. This is the major problem I have with this series. I do not mind a good story about a fictional work, if it is about the story, but I just cannot stand the fact that the emphasis on this episode is proving that the story of Beowulf really happened without focusing on what makes this a worthwhile piece of literature, worthy of studying.
The Instant Expert: Beowulf Overview
If you are an adult who has experienced any sort of literature class, especially at a higher level of education, you probably already know the story of Beowulf. This disc quickly flushes over the story of Beowulf, who takes on Grendel and his mother, in the name of King Hrothgar, the leader of the Danes. Beowulf, protecting the Great Hall of Heorot, also takes on a dragon. These exploits are brushed over in a rather condensed version, while the real focus of this disc is on Beowulf being a real man and really fighting a monster like Grendel.
One area that I have trouble with is the comparison of Beowulf and his story and that of Christianity conquering Paganism. I do not feel this is helpful in any educational setting, especially when considering Beowulf has conquered “monsters” and I do not feel it is prudent to get into any type of “they were monsters’ dispute concerning religion. Of course, you also have to realize that there is no historical proof dragons have ever existed and yet (well there is that theory they were dinosaurs, but no human has ever fought a dinosaur, at least science says they haven’t), nor monsters like Grendel and Grendel’s mother, who could terrorize a Great Hall.
The only part of the story that makes any sense, is the live action, heavily CGI sequences which tell the actual story, which are interspersed with conspiracy theories, galore, which examine how this legend could have really happened in 5 or 6 CE. If you look at this footage as the fictitious material it obviously is, the DVD is not nearly as bad. Unfortunately, the action is not as prevalent as the information these sequences are used to back up as possibly and potentially, historically happening.
Despite my dislike for the content on this DVD, this transfer looks really good. The History Channel enjoys wowing with its visuals when it can, and they left no stones unturned with the Clash of the Gods series. The visual quality is presented at a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The colors are vibrant and images pop off the screen. There is a lot of CGI, which is the only part that diminishes the quality of this disc. The one issue I had was problems with aliasing, especially doing the more lively and active scenes presented in the story of Beowulf. Overall, the visual quality, with its sharp vibrancy, was the best thing about this DVD.
While the audio was not quite as spectacular as the video quality, it did its job, and that’s what any audio is supposed to do. I am not usually wowed by an English, Dolby Digital 2.0 transfer, and this is no exception. The sound is good but not spectacular. The dialogue comes through crisp, clear and semi-dynamically with no need for volume toggling. The sound also uses the soundtrack to its advantage, though it could have been more robust with a greater transfer, if it was provided. Overall, this does its job without overly impressing.
Not much is here in the way of bonuses, which is sad for the Instant Expert series, as a whole, but since I am not fond of Instant Expert: Beowulf, I do not really mind that it was not bustling with bonus features. What is here is a 10-question review quiz, which “students” should take after watching the DVD. This set also includes an educator’s text supplement, since this is geared specifically at educators. Other than that the bonus section is bare.
As much as I have felt the other Instant Expert titles have been useful, both Ashtyn and I agree, Instant Expert: Beowulf left much to be desired. I wish they would have focused more on the literature aspects of a story like Beowulf, or on the climate that may have inspired the writer, who remains anonymous, as opposed to linking events of the time to the happenings within the story in an attempt to prove it could have happened. This greatly diminished the quality of this Instant Expert title, and as such, I do not recommend it be used as a teaching tool nor purchased unless you enjoy convoluted conspiracy theories.