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Title: Barbarians Rising

Movie: :3.5stars:
Video: :4stars:
Audio: :3stars:
Extras: :halfstar:

HTS Overall Score:64

The History Channel has made a very lucrative business repackaging history into dramatic reenactments, whether that be someone like Houdini, the Texas Ranger, the revolutionary war, or the Barbarian hordes (I can’t type or say that without thinking of the gladiator ring announcer from “Gladiator”) of the Germanic tribes surrounding Rome. “Barbarians Rising” is another feather in the cap of the channel, making a decidedly entertaining little docudrama, even though there is some spotty history thrown into the mix and an overabundance of battle scenes to cover up the sometimes thin information at hand. In fact that might be the films glaring weakness. That there isn’t as much known information about the details of what went on, so they need to create battle scene filler to flesh it out to full miniseries length. On the flipside, the show does introduce us to more barbarian warriors other than the classics like Attila the Hun, Spartacus, and Hannibal (one of the most famous barbarian generals of all time). We get an introduction to the queen of the barbarians, Boudica, as well as Veritas the shepherd.

The term “Barbarians” brings to mind giant savage warriors of incredible power. Wielding battle axes and clothed in nothing but furs. Kind of like the Orcs in “Warcraft” they are thought of as giant savages with very little civility and heavy on the warfare. The real definition goes back to the Greeks and Romans where they used the label to describe anyone who was a foreigner or spoke other languages them themselves. That and any country or people that they deemed “inferior” to their civilization. While many of the Germanic tribes were tribal societies that wore furs and weren’t as technologically advances, they were no more “savages” than most other countries around the area.

The series is a 4 part film, spread out over two discs and basically making a chronological event of the Roman conquest machine as it tried to conquer the known world. Right off the bat we’re introduced to one of the most famous Barbarians of all time. Hannibal of Carthage. Hannibal is a household (at least to history buffs) name mainly due to his famous assault on the Roman Empire by crossing the then thought impenetrable Alps to get to the Roman Legions with his band of warriors and elephants. However, while that is fascinating, the opening bits and character background of Hannibal’s life make up the meat and potatoes of that little subsection. There’s a scene with Hannibal where you see his father make him watch the sacrifice of a cow that puts a whole nother twist to “bad parenting”.

After Hannibal’s defeat many years later, the Romans retaliate against all of the Germanic and Barbarian tribes that fought alongside or supported the Carthaginians. Sweep out to Lusitania, the roman legions run into a new type of warfare. Guerilla warfare. A shepherd named Viratus had rallied the remaining Lusitanians after Rome nearly wiped them out and waged a war that would basically become Rome’s Vietnam. As Rome finds the weak spots of the Germanic tribes they move from one conquered area to the other, making it easy for the show to jump around from Barbarian hero to Barbarian hero. As soon as they conquer one place, it’s easy enough to shift to the next one in line.

As I mentioned in the opening paragraph. The weakness of the show comes from inundating the viewer with copious battle sequences that get a little mind numbing at times. The dramatizations are actually quite good, but over the course of six hours you can only show so many battle scenes before they start to get repetitive. The actual experts chiming in have some great facts though, and there are some wonderful historians who get to say their piece. The one person who would chime in every once in a while that made me scratch my head was Rev. Jesse Jackson. He’s not a Roman era historian or an expert on battles, so his little bits were rather puzzling. He was kind of the sore thumb that stood out in those regards. It’s not a horrible thing, as much of the information really is fascinating. Especially to someone like myself who has a love of the old Roman era history and mythology.


Not Rated by the MPAA

Video :4stars:
If you’ve watched many of the History Channel docudramas then you’ve seen them all in regards to picture quality. History has a very specific look to all of their films and miniseries that translate across to all the others. Colors are slightly lightened, but still show plenty of pop and saturation, and there is a light gauzy look to the image that almost looks dreamlike in nature. Fine detailing is excellent throughout, and the Roman era costumes are replicated with pinpoint precision visually. Black levels are generally good, but sometimes look a little washed out due to the gauzy look that I mentioned before. No major artifacting is present besides the standard banding that is present on a lot of these History Channel releases. A solid transfer and easily the best score of the whole package.

Audio :3stars:
Perhaps one of the most puzzling features of this set is the audio track on board. While not ALL of the History Channel’s release have 5.1 surround tracks they have always been in the lossless format. However for this release Lionsgate decided to put on a 2.0 track, but not JUST a 2.0 track. A 2.0 track in lossy DVD era Dolby Digital. What makes this even weirder is that “Barbarians Rising” is a film loaded down with spectacular battles and scenes that are just begging for a surround sound track in lossless audio. Instead the 2.0 track is rather anemic, with weak (almost nonexistent) bass and the obvious lack of any heavy immersion without the surround channels. The dialog is solid enough and there are no faults in the front sound stage, but the decision to go with a DVD era lossy 2.0 track is both bizarre and saddening.

Extras: :halfstar:

• Trailers

Overall: :3stars:

I have a love of ancient warriors, especially Roman and Germanic barbarian ones, so “Barbarians Rising” was an instant watch for this reviewer. The show has its flaws (mainly by showing a bit too many battles and not enough actual historical data), but it is a solidly entertaining piece of historical fun. We get to see some of the most famous of the Barbarians, but History generously included several of the non-mainstream ones as well to give a bit more meat to chew into. The video track is about what we would expect for the History shows that Lionsgate puts out, but the lack of lossless or even 5.1 audio on the disc is REALLY strange. That and the lack of special features is a bit disappointing too. It’s still definitely worth a watch if you’re a History Channel buff, as there is enough fun to go around. Solid Watch

Additional Information:

Starring: Michael Ealy, Kirsty Mitchell, Ian Beattie
Directed by: Declan O'Dwyer, Simon George
Written by: Chris Fallon, Elizabeth Dench....
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 AVC
Audio: English: Dolby Digital 2.0
Studio: Lionsgate
Rated: NR
Runtime: 336 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: Sept 27th, 2016

Buy Barbarians Rising Blu-ray on Amazon

Recommendation: Solid Watch

More about Mike

3,982 Posts
I have this in my dvr. Only been through one episode(?). I agree with this review totally, and look forward to finishing the series. Good fun, and interesting too.

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