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226 of 234 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A triumph of civilisation and television landmark
An epic investigation into human civilisation and one of the jewels in the BBC's crown, Jacob Bronowski's 'The Ascent of Man' was one of the most gripping and absorbing television experiences I have ever witnessed. At an age when I should have been going off down the pub and making a nuisance of myself, I stayed in, week after week to watch this production...
Published on 8 Oct 2005

versus
11 of 21 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Content not up to date, but still ok, video quality quite bad
I guess I should have know by the age of this documentary series, but although still fascinating, it lacks more recents insights (like that the Neanderthal was NOT a direct ancestor of modern men), making larger parts less believable as well (what were the 'facts' presented based on?).

The video quality was another nasty surprise, a DVD with less than average...
Published on 27 Jun 2012 by M. G. Beem


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226 of 234 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A triumph of civilisation and television landmark, 8 Oct 2005
By A Customer
This review is from: The Ascent Of Man : Complete BBC Series [DVD] [1973] (DVD)
An epic investigation into human civilisation and one of the jewels in the BBC's crown, Jacob Bronowski's 'The Ascent of Man' was one of the most gripping and absorbing television experiences I have ever witnessed. At an age when I should have been going off down the pub and making a nuisance of myself, I stayed in, week after week to watch this production.
Bronowski, by the 1970's, was a well-known figure on British television - an intellectual and a scientist who could communicate the complex without sounding simplistic or making the viewer feel stupid. But 'The Ascent of Man' seemed a programme too far. The BBC charter, and the BBC's experience, might emphasise the need to educate and inform, as well as entertain, but surely an exploration of this nature was too vast and too cerebral for prime-time viewing? There were many who felt that it was pretentious of the BBC and that it would be played to a distinctly minority audience.
The result was not simply that Bronowski produced groundbreaking television and set the tone for the future, his exploration of human civilisation crossed the bridge of irony - the British public was not merely ready to watch this programme, they wanted exploration and enquiry, and they wanted the sort of production Bronowski could deliver. Here we had intelligent, intellectual analysis which was sustained by human values, not cold science! Bronowski conveyed passion and excitement and made knowledge and learning warm with emotion and anticipation!
Bronowski could inject passion into a fossil! He comes across as such a lover of life. This is not just a quick history of the world ... this is excitement captured on television, and now on DVD. The great quality of 'The Ascent of Man' is that Bronowski does not set out to deliver fact, incontrovertible statements set in stone - rather he sets out to question and to sow in the minds of the viewer the seeds of doubt, the questions which will stimulate them to enquire, to enquire, and enquire again and never to take for granted. The scientific method is not the cold pursuit of certainties ... it is the human dynamic of uncertainty and the artistry of explanation. Science and history are alive.
And Bronowski never makes this point more clearly than when he kneels in a concentration camp and plucks up a handful of earth. It is a scene of such humility and compassion, it never fails to bring tears to my eyes. Evil lies in blind acceptance and obedience. The essence of civilisation is in questioning, doubting, thinking outside the box. And, in 'The Ascent of Man', the BBC brought the box into the living room and delivered out of it one of the epic pieces of television history and one of the most civilising productions any media has yet carried. Magnificent. Five stars is just for starters!
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201 of 209 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spellbinding television, 22 Jun 2005
This review is from: The Ascent Of Man : Complete BBC Series [DVD] [1973] (DVD)
I watched the original "The Ascent of Man" series as a teenager in the early seventies & periodically caught up with sporadic episodes via video recordings & repeat broadcasts over the years.
Having purchased the DVD box set & had the chance to watch all 13 episodes in sequence over a short period of time, I have been nothing short of spellbound by a second exposure to Bronowski's achievement & performance.
This is material you need to immerse yourself in totally - close the door & brook no interruptions. Bronowski's greatest legacy through these essays is the way in which he brings to life through his own understanding & humanity the key individuals who have dominated the history of science. Each viewer will draw their own conclusions & have their own favourites, but for me the desciptions of the life & work of Alfred Wallace, Gregor Mendel, Albert Einstein & Leo Szilard are peaks on the already high plateau of analysis & explanation.
The series is peppered with profound quotations from his subjects & wonderful prose from Bronowski himself. I would challenge anybody with an ounce of humanity not to be moved by the closing sequences of 'The Majestic Clockwork','The Long Childhood' &, of course, 'Knowledge or Certainty' which is angry, chilling & heart-rending all at the same time.
They do not make them like this anymore.
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167 of 176 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars They really don't make them like this any more (and never will again), 4 Jan 2007
By 
Dr. George L. Sik (Epsom, Surrey) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Ascent Of Man : Complete BBC Series [DVD] [1973] (DVD)
There's a notice that hangs on the wall of many a BBC documentary producer which says something like: 'Remember - every programme should tell a story'. To say that The Ascent of Man achieves this apparently simple aim so successfully seems almost unnecessary, such is its reputation, but it's worth asking ourselves why it works so well.

In the end, it is the charisma of Dr Jacob Bronowski that is perhaps the key. He can talk straight to camera for minutes on end with no cross cutting, no punchy music and no heavy-handed visual metaphors filling the screen. Even in the best of today's documentaries, there is an almost desperate desire not to lose the MTV generation with, in the words of Bart Simpson, 'a four second attention-span'. Have we really lost the power to concentrate? The success this year of Al Gore's 'An Inconvenient Truth' which, aside from the odd bell and whistle, was essentially a filmed lecture, suggests not. We don't need television to talk down to us or assume we can't think for ourselves. Bronowski knew this instinctively.

His style is quiet but never shy, rich in the texture of his language and highly seductive. His views, even the highly personal ones, ring with a real honesty and integrity. His overall vision for mankind is, in spite of everything, an optimistic one.

No documentary presenter has ever, in my view, matched this. David Attenborough (who incidentally commissioned this series when he ran BBC2)comes close, as did Carl Sagan with his Cosmos series, and there is no doubting the enthusiasm of presenters like Patrick Moore. But the rot set in early and the meretricious posturing of the likes of James Burke led quickly to today's David Starkeys, the 'I'm cleverer than you are' school of presenters, as arrogant as they are unwatchable.

It would be a pity if young people today find Bronowski's approach boring or slow, but I doubt many of them would. A little unfamiliar by today's standards, certainly, but, for anyone with a scintilla of patience, pure gold. There will never be a documentary as good as this ever made again.
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56 of 59 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intellectually stimulating TV, 10 Oct 2005
By A Customer
This review is from: The Ascent Of Man : Complete BBC Series [DVD] [1973] (DVD)
The ability to sit down and watch all 13 episodes of the Ascent of Man in quick succession highlights just what an impressive achievement the series is. I remember watching the series when it was first shown in the 70s. I've no doubt that some of the scientific theories discussed have moved on since 1973 and the computers now look positively prehistoric but Bronowski is an engaging and stimulating presenter with an obvious deep knowledge of science but with historical and artistic knowledge too. A great shame that he wasn't spared to produce more work like this. Unfortunately I just can't see any TV company tackling such a "difficult" topic today so if you have not seen the series before, treat yourself and see that it is possible to produce more than reality TV and game shows and to entertain and educate at the same time.
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40 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A unique and timeless experience, 24 July 2007
By 
This review is from: The Ascent Of Man : Complete BBC Series [DVD] [1973] (DVD)
This is an absolutely stunning account of the story of man. The charismatic Bronowski takes us back in time and around the world to fascinating places. We meet the famous people who have made our history. Standing in the room where Galileo faced his accusers four hundred years ago, and speaking his very words, Bronowski brings the scene vividly to life. We sit in the Swiss cafe where Einstein sipped coffee; we go on to experience a whirlwind "space" ride in a tram. Bronowski climbs hills and delves into the atom. Don't miss this wonderful series. You'll want to return to it again and again.
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52 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Ascent of Man - it's what TV was invented for, 7 April 2006
By 
Rik Bean (Milton Keynes, Bucks United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Ascent Of Man : Complete BBC Series [DVD] [1973] (DVD)
I was fortunate enough to watch the original transmission of this series, and have re-visited repeats whenever possible. The ability to own a copy was too much to resist.
Dr Bronowski's style and the producer's approach is a refreshing change from today's documentaries. The programme makers assume the viewer has an attention span of more than 5 minutes, and do not constantly reprise the material. Those special effects that are used enhance the material, rather than cover for a lack of substance. Of course, it does show its age in some respects, eg film grain and primitive computer graphics, but this does not detract from the content. I wish that Dr Bronowski had lived longer to produce more wonderful documentaries, and that I could have studied with him, he was a great teacher.
Highly recommended, as is the book.
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49 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One for every one to watch, 11 Dec 2005
This review is from: The Ascent Of Man : Complete BBC Series [DVD] [1973] (DVD)
I can only say that I wanted to watch this based on foggy memories of watching it as a child and feeling it something special but not quite knowing why. Now looking back 30 years later I cannot commend it highly enough for anyone interested in the progression of two legs on the planet. I was touched by Bronowskis delivery which is very simple and personal and he takes some complicated issues and simplifies. I was worried the programme would look dated as 70's sit coms do, other than the sort of Blakes 7 type theme tune the backing music by Pink Floyd is good. The picture quality shows some age but the actual camera work is bang on up to date, this is cinemographic quality filming and i doubt will ever age, Bronowskis appearance is ageless and the computer graphics still work as they were done on cutting edge stuff at that time which makes you realise that the programme makers were about the best available. The best thing about the ages is of course the global modernisation that started in earnest in the 70's means that some of the people he filmed today will have changed.. the Laps on snow mobiles and the Persian nomads now Iranians probably in 4x4 pickup trucks selling Opium, the lasting memory i will have is the old Persian unable to cross the river being left to pass away. Undoubtedly some of the Astronomical theories he covers will have been changed with recent discoveries. It would be nice if the beeb would do a seperate up date series however i doubt they could do the presentation justice so should leave it if they cant
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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perhaps the best television program ever produced, 15 Dec 2006
By 
D. Mitchell - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Ascent Of Man : Complete BBC Series [DVD] [1973] (DVD)
I am an American, who fortunately owns a region-free DVD player. This amazing work is still unavailable in the USA, and even in VHS format it is nearly impossible to find.

The Ascent of Man is perhaps the best documentary of science and history every made for television. It's author and narrator is a genuine scholar and intellect, and as such he is able to clearly explain in a way that only one who understands can do.

In watching it again, after many years, I was surprised by how current this program is. It discusses cloning, it brings up ethical questions about the role of the scientist, and it ends with a passionate plea for Western Civilization to not turn away from truth and intellectual integrity.

The cinematography of this program is also splendid, even sumptuous. Whether we are watching a slow-motion micrograph of a burning match, the vista of a mountain range, or watching Bronowski speak in his own home, the program is expertly directed and captivating to the eye.
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87 of 93 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A triumph of civilisation and television landmark, 27 Feb 2005
By 
Budge Burgess (Troon, Scotland) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Ascent Of Man : Complete BBC Series [DVD] [1973] (DVD)
An epic investigation into human civilisation and one of the jewels in the BBC's crown, Jacob Bronowski's 'The Ascent of Man' was one of the most gripping and absorbing television experiences I have ever witnessed. At an age when I should have been going off down the pub and making a nuisance of myself, I stayed in, week after week to watch this production.
Bronowski, by the 1970's, was a well-known figure on British television - an intellectual and a scientist who could communicate the complex without sounding simplistic or making the viewer feel stupid. But 'The Ascent of Man' seemed a programme too far. The BBC charter, and the BBC's experience, might emphasise the need to educate and inform, as well as entertain, but surely an exploration of this nature was too vast and too cerebral for prime-time viewing? There were many who felt that it was pretentious of the BBC and that it would be played to a distinctly minority audience.
The result was not simply that Bronowski produced groundbreaking television and set the tone for the future, his exploration of human civilisation crossed the bridge of irony - the British public was not merely ready to watch this programme, they wanted exploration and enquiry, and they wanted the sort of production Bronowski could deliver. Here we had intelligent, intellectual analysis which was sustained by human values, not cold science! Bronowski conveyed passion and excitement and made knowledge and learning warm with emotion and anticipation!
Bronowski could inject passion into a fossil! He comes across as such a lover of life. This is not just a quick history of the world ... this is excitement captured on television, and now on DVD. The great quality of 'The Ascent of Man' is that Bronowski does not set out to deliver fact, incontrovertible statements set in stone - rather he sets out to question and to sow in the minds of the viewer the seeds of doubt, the questions which will stimulate them to enquire, to enquire, and enquire again and never to take for granted. The scientific method is not the cold pursuit of certainties ... it is the human dynamic of uncertainty and the artistry of explanation. Science and history are alive.
And Bronowski never makes this point more clearly than when he kneels in a concentration camp and plucks up a handful of earth. It is a scene of such humility and compassion, it never fails to bring tears to my eyes. Evil lies in blind acceptance and obedience. The essence of civilisation is in questioning, doubting, thinking outside the box. And, in 'The Ascent of Man', the BBC brought the box into the living room and delivered out of it one of the epic pieces of television history and one of the most civilising productions any media has yet carried. Magnificent. Five stars is just for starters!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THE ASCENT OF MAN: A MASTERCLASS IN THE ART OF AUTHORED DOCUMENTARY, 22 Sep 2011
This review is from: The Ascent Of Man : Complete BBC Series [DVD] [1973] (DVD)
I've learnt more in the course of watching this compelling series than I did during seven years of secondary school education.

It's not simply a matter of Jacob Bronowski's intellect, but his own life experience and essential humanity that shines through and informs every word. I've never seen anyone conflate the arts and science as he does - and with such charisma, as though he's sharing some secret knowledge with you. You can't help but be flattered by his concentrated attention.

It's a masterclass in the art of the authored documentary, effortlessly juxtaposing different periods, personalities and ideas and always with a satisfying visual style - from the framing of individual shots to the staging of elaborate set-ups (see the surreal opening to Programme 11 about the imperfection of knowledge in which a giant human head sits incongruously on the beach with an assortment of scanners, cameras and other devices arranged about it).

It's not simply the story itself and how Bronowski chooses to tell it, but how he encourages you to think about the nature of human progress - our journey - and the limits of our own knowledge that is most affecting. He makes you think, rather than simply 'receive'; he makes you care, rather than simply understand.

There's an additional nostalgic pleasure to be had that was not available to the original audience in 1973 - whether its the giant computer with its childlike rendering of atomic structures, the locations populated with what are now considered vintage cars or Bronowski's own delightfully idiosyncratic wardrobe.

There's also the awareness that man's ascent has accelerated in the decades since the series was produced and you can't help but imagine how Bronowski might have enthused about the multitude of new discoveries and inventions since - the new planets, new elements, new leaps in DNA analysis, the discovery of the missing links between man and ape, the new age of telephony, computing and internet etc.

There's also a lesson here for contemporary programmer-makers: the most compelling instrument in the medium remains the power and personality of the human voice.

I can't recommend this highly enough and - if you're any kind of media student or content producer - it's a must-have.
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