Review by Mark Wiechman

Narrated by:  Robert Powell
Producer:  Nugus/Martin Productions
Audio:  Dolby Surround
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  A&E/The History Channel/Universal
Features:  None
Length:  1350 Minutes
Release Date:  July 24, 2003

Program ***

Leonard Bernstein called the 20th century the “century of death.” It could also be called the century of life due to medical breakthroughs.  But most accurately, it should be called the century of warfare because of the courage and brilliance of the soldiers who stood up to the tyrants who wanted the century to be called another age of empires.  World War I created the modern world in so many ways, and World War II nearly ended civilization as we know it.   Communism’s sickle cut a cold, bloody swath across the world in many armed conflicts, even in free countries such as ours, as seen in the near collapse of American society due to the Vietnam conflict.  And while Communism fell in the 1990s, Islamic terrorism today makes some of the prior enemies of freedom seem like amateurs.  The more things change, the more they stay the same, eh?   But perhaps if we learn from the past, we can avoid repeating it.  Or at least see it coming…

Where were these great programs when I was in school?   When I first heard of the History Channel, I assumed it would go down in a flame of apathy, but instead it has flourished due to its excellent productions which sum up the reasons behind conflicts without glorifying war or preaching about its morality.  The producers clearly understand that while history books are excellent for scholars, video is needed for a modern general audience.n Empire at the end of World War I.

The series has an antiseptic tone, however. You never forget that this is merely a documentary consisting of footage strung together.   There is no feeling of being on the battlefield, but rather like a plain textbook you are told that this happened, then this happened, then another thing, etc.  Cause and effect are explored but not in any detail, we are merely told this caused that, not always why. 

On the other hand, in my opinion 22 hours is really not enough to go into detail for the subject matter.  It would take that long just to discuss one of the world wars.  Remember that it took Ken Burns 11 hours to talk about the Civil War, which only lasted a few years, and even then, he did not go over every significant battle.  On the other hand, you did feel like you were there in the south fighting right alongside Lee and Grant.  An excellent series such as The History of Britain had an exciting narrator who actually went to the places where history happened and made them come alive. 

This series, however, is merely footage pasted together with a narration that is pleasantly delivered but not very interesting or illuminating.  If you already are familiar with the history of the 20th century, you may not learn too much that you did not already know.   The explanation of how superior weaponry evolved is interesting, however.   Also new to many viewers will be the depiction of the roles of poverty, disease, and ideological and political forces which were at work behind the wars.

It is an excellent educational tool and is a good springboard to more detailed written histories.

Volume 1: The Violent Century, The World Goes to War, Blood and Mud, War of the Eagle s

Volume 2: Battle Fleets and U-Boats, Aces High, War to End All War?, Enter the Dictators

Volume 3: The War Clouds Gather, Blitzkrieg, Britain Stands Alone, Sand and Sea War

Volume 4: Hitler Turns East: Operation Barbarossa, The Long Road Back, Normandy to the Rhine, The End in Europe 

Volume 5: Oriental Blitzkrieg, Jungle and Ocean, The War at Sea, Air War

Volume 6: Iron Curtain, Oriental Communism, Wars in Peace 

Volume 7: Vietnam, War in the Middle East, Gulf War and the Future

Video **

While it was certainly a monumental task to edit all of the footage together, that is all it is: a patchwork.  Nothing new is offered:  no tours of battlefields, or anything that would bring it to life.  Naturally the film quality is poor due to its age, but images shown were clearly selected for their historical relevance to the narration, not their cinematography, and they are indeed excellent images.

Audio **

No problems, the narration is of high quality and the 2.0 mix works fine.

Features (zero stars)

None, but did you expect General Patton to give us a play-by-play? 


Not a landmark achievement, but still a top notch presentation of the most violent century in history.  An excellent overview of modern warfare.