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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > History > Science > The Vikings - NOVA (WGBH/Documentary)

The Vikings - NOVA (WGBH/Documentary)


Picture: B-     Sound: B-     Extras: D     Film: B+



The new DVD of the WGBH Nova installment on The Vikings is expansive documentary details much of a story that often isn’t presented to the mass populace of this country.  In detail, it shows how the Vikings were a group of people who, while still prone to rape, murder and the pillaging of coastal villages, also made some incredible discoveries and shaped several cultures well outside of their own.  Facts such as Leif Ericson’s journey to America are explored, as well as less established, or at least little-known facts such as the Vikings’ possible role in the formation of Russia’s early social structure.


When compared with what much of modern fiction has spun off as being rooted in fact, you get two very different images attempting to show one group of people.  The latter of which has conjured up images of barbarians eager to reach their goals of battle and bloodshed, and pluck life from their enemies.  The desires of this lifestyle may have been best summed up in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s words from Conan the Barbarian, when Conan is being asked what was deemed best in life.  “To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of the women!” was his quick reply; and it echoes as truth for many people who consider how life was lived in those ancient days.


To get what might be an accurate picture of these northern people, you likely have to consider both this documentary and works of fiction such as the one discussed above.  True, the latter is a film that also concerns snake-people, demons and the like; but certain historical accuracies can be found scattered about, though meshed together from a variety of ancient cultures.  However, this documentary itself doesn’t dismiss all of the Viking’s brutal behaviors - it merely puts that into perspective with all else in their lives, rather than the one-dimensional view we are surely accustomed to.


The picture and sound quality on this disc are merely par, but I’d expect no more for a documentary of this sort, so don’t sweat the median ratings given to both categories.  Sadly, though, there aren’t any special features on here.  Usually those are atypical as well when dealing with something based on providing information in the first place.  I would still be interested to see a short piece that contrasted the approach most often used to portray these barbaric people throughout the sword and sorcery films of the 1980’s against what this NOVA film had to reveal.


I recommend this disc heartily - it certainly grabbed my attention, and presented some very interesting archaeological finds from recent years and is surprisingly sprawling in the depth of its content and reach.  I also found that it goes over especially well after watching a lot of popcorn fare in a vaguely similar vein, and maybe knocks a little sense back into your perceptions.



-   David Milchick


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