STUDIO: A&E Home Video
MSRP: $49.95
RUNNING TIME: 611 minutes
• Nada.

The Pitch

We’ll mix geology with doomsday scenarios to teach people about how our planet came to be. It’s like 2012, only with actual, you know, facts.

The Humans

Starring lots of scientists
Narrated by Corey Johnson
Directed by Robert Strange

The Nutshell

This 13-episode first season explains how the earth was made through examining various natural wonders of the world, reverse-engineering them through the work of scientists’ geological studies to find out just how the Great Lakes, Krakatoa, and the San Andreas Fault came into being, and thus learning more about how the earth continues to manifest itself.

Don’t worry: at the rate that the new Krakatoa is growing, only your grandchildren will probably be affected by the calamitous explosion that will kill thousands.

The Lowdown

History Channel TV shows tend to be those that come across like comfort food: when you’re flipping through channels unsure of what to settle on and nothing is grabbing your attention, that soothing formula of a calm, strong narrator combined with incredible photography draws you in and you end up watching a series marathon all day long on a Saturday, not even bothering to move off the couch much more than to go to the bathroom and grab another bag of chips.

How the Earth Was Made is one of those shows. Just as you finish one episode and feel like perhaps you can turn it off and go off to do something else more productive with your life, the opening of the next hits you and there’s no way you’re changing the channel.  I mean, who doesn’t want to know what the deepest place on earth is and how it was made?

This show distinguishes itself by examining the world through the lens of geology. Arguably not the sexiest of the sciences – as far as science goes – geology, in its most rudimentary terms, is the study of rocks. Earth, as it turns out, is made up of all different sorts of rocks in many different forms, so in order to study how our planet came into looking like what we see today, you need some geology in your life. Personally I’m not much interested in how limestone comes from fossilized coral, but I dig that there are people out there who do. And this series gives those people their time to shine.

Roxx Magazine’s Rock of the Month 2010

Each episode goes like this: introduce a natural landmark of some kind (think Loch Ness, New York, Great Lakes, the Alps); explain how incredible it is; imply that it won’t always stay that way (usually ending in some sort of calamity for us humans); and then follow geologists as they figure out how the Earth created – and is continuing to create – such an incredible, awe-inspiring landscape. There are five total segments, with re-caps every eight minutes or so for those of you keeping score at home. And the tension is ratcheted up so that by the end we’re all well aware of the awesome power the Earth has and continues to unleash on us – either in fits and spurts or just slowly over the incomprehensible length of time that our planet has existed.

Resorting to using grand, natural features and coupling them with impending doom (even the episode on the Great Lakes ends up predicting just when the lakes will all dry up and disappear – forever!) keeps this geological stuff from getting stale. And even though I would’ve found that episode particularly interesting as I’m from Michigan, framing all of the shows around disaster (yes, the largest concentration of fresh water in the world drying up would be a total disaster, but don’t worry that’s not going to happen for thousands of years) plays to our basest fears, making science not nearly as boring as I remember it in high school. And along the way, I learned that little tidbit about limestone. Entertainment and education. Who knew?

(That is, of course, provided that you believe in any of these sorts of things. From the opening lines of the first episode, narrator Corey Johnson essentially tells the Creationists out there that nothing following will line up with their beliefs by explaining off the bat that the universe is over 13 billion years old, with our very own Earth a cool 4.5 billion years young. Not exactly young enough to fit the whole young-earth theory.)

We’ll render the planet uninhabitable to humankind long before the Earth does.

While the series does keep it interesting through on-site explorations with geologists, reenactments, and expert interviews, there are moments where it gets a bit melodramatic. During the episode on the San Andreas Fault – which of course ends in the 99 percent chance of a devastating earthquake hitting Los Angeles in the next 30 years – the producers roll out a random firefighter to talk about how much the destruction aftermath will be and that the impending Big One is a “sure thing.” How in the world is this firefighter an expert on plate tectonics, exactly? Why should I trust his prediction over any random non-scientist? Pretty much everyone with zero knowledge of fault lines expects there to be a cataclysmic shock in the near future; at least if it’s coming from someone who studies this stuff, it’ll carry more weight. The choice to have him deliver that information to us was for sheer emotional impact rather than for factual accuracy. Same with Loch Ness — the whole story behind how it came to be is rather fascinating (spoiler: it was formed by rocks that come from the time when Britain and New England were part of the same continent) — but I’m sure they could’ve looked at a number of other ancient lakes that didn’t have legendary monsters living in them. But, that’s not really a knock: it makes for the information that much more engaging and interesting.

Overall, it’s a solid series, one that is entertaining and fascinating at the same time. Like, the San Andreas Fault (particularly interesting to me since I live on it) – apparently it was only discovered in the past 100 years after the great San Francisco fire. Before that, people thought that earthquakes were giant explosions underground. The theory of plate tectonics hadn’t yet been conceived. Incredible considering we take that just as common knowledge nowadays.

It remains to be seen, though, how true that firefighter will be on his prediction of the next big quake in the Southland. I figure that if everyone makes that prediction, eventually someone will be right. I just hope I’m not in town when they are.

I’m no expert on reading charts, but I’m pretty sure this shows irrefutable proof that tax breaks for the rich will stimulate the economy and create jobs for hard-working Americans.

The Package

Solid production value, which is what you’d expect from a History Channel original series. Nice transfer on Blu-ray; although there are no special features whatsoever. Would’ve been nice to see some extras with the filmmakers on the multi-continental shoot.


Out of a Possible 5 Stars

If the tumbling buildings don’t kill you when the next unavoidable disaster strikes, the looting, riots, and fires sure will. Can’t wait.

Screen grabs not taken from Blu-ray.