Building Big (Documentary Science Mini-Series)
Sound: B- Extras: C Episodes: B
Documentary mini-series can be a great deal of fun to
watch and the PBS/WGBH series Building Big (2000-2002) is one of
those. Hosted nicely by David Macaulay,
the series has been broken into five parts:
Bridges is an excellent installment
that begins with bridges made of stone, followed by all the innovative and
groundbreaking designs of the last 100+ years, including sad, disturbing,
spectacular failure of one that could not handle high winds. The full color film footage has to be seen
to be believed.
Domes may be the oddest of the five installments, but a
very relevant one. There is a great
piece on The Houston Astrodome, and then the history of domed structures goes
forward. Included are those in Italy,
what Arab countries did to make the structures their own, then how they became
landmark features of architecture in The United States.
Skyscrapers happens to be inclusive of the
events of 9/11/01 and shows the remarkable history of such structures. It not only goes into all the various
technologies that made them happen and innovations that made them taller, but
how building them constantly became an expression of corporate power and
pride. This is a great installment.
Dams might not immediately be thought of either, but
they are land, life, nature and history changing. Naturally built dams by beavers are skipped for the man-made
type, including the amazing tale of the building of The Hoover Dam (also the
subject of a documentary reviewed elsewhere on this site), as well as new
approaches to making them that are more environmentally friendly.
Tunnels start with the simplest of
them, then focuses on others, including two landmark tunnels in Britain: The Thames and The Chunnel, the latter of
which connects England and France. The
techniques and surprises in making such structures are as interesting as the
ambition and results, in what may be the most taken-for-granted of them all.
For all the independent video productions that try to
glorify construction as hip and are often aimed at a children’s audience that
would otherwise play videogames and watch action films, this program is much
more exciting and educational.
Ultimately, this is much more progressive, intelligent and frankly will
have more replayability. The
explanation of all the technology is detailed, to the point and accessible to
just about any viewer who has an attention span.
The letterboxed 1.78 X 1 image is nicely shot and produced,
but is very unfortunately not anamorphic, the only thing this set made a
mistake on. With all the new footage,
illustrations, animation and classic film footage, this would have been a prime
candidate for that treatment. It still
looks, good, clean and clear, despite detail limits that may not be the case
form the original source material. The
Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo has nice Pro Logic surrounds throughout and has a
better than usual mix for such a documentary program. Extras include a weblink, a DVD-ROM feature that lets you print
out a 40-page activity guide and each show ends with a project for children
with members of WGBH’s children’s classic Zoom!
Building Big is a great science set and a
pleasant surprise, making it one of the best DVD sets of its kind to date. And once again, this is the excellence of
- Nicholas Sheffo