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Customer Review

16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars First class eductional entertainment. Buildings can be brilliant, 5 April 2008
This review is from: Dan Cruickshank's Adventures in Architecture [DVD] (DVD)
Dan Crucikshank is an engaging architectural historian who creates TV programmes which are informative, colourful and easy to watch. In previous series he has shown us Britain's Best Buildings and gone Around The World in 80 Treasures; this time he takes another globe-trotting journey to present a personal view of striking and important buildings; the ones which have influenced (or directly represent) aspects of human civilisation, endeavour and creativity.

As is the fashion for modern documentaries, the shows are edited together in the form of segments from different locations; beautiful picture-postcards which are enhanced by Dan's explanation of what we're looking at and why he thinks it is important. Each episode is based around a theme, be it beauty (definitely in the eye of the beholder), or death, or pleasure or paradise (that's 'paradise' as it's defined by a major religion). There are eight episodes which are intended to celebrate architecture as a creative force and give a portrait of humanity through building.
So we follow Dan around the world, starting with the simple igloo and including gilded Russian palaces, Mayan pyramids, Bavarian castles, oppressive cathedrals, chapels decorated with human bones, a giant Buddha in China, and so on.

This is another of the BBC's landmark series, and it is very well produced indeed. Cruickshank is a favourite presenter -- he's an expert in the subject so knows what he is talking about and yet doesn't allow his own story to dominate the flow. Cruickshank talks about the building, its architecture and what it means to him -- unlike some other presenters (Iain Stewart, I'm thinking of you!) he doesn't fill each segment with personal reminiscence. The subject of the film is clearly the building, not the presenter...
Yet having said that, it's extremely easy to like Dan and his cheery if breathless manner. He obviously adores what he's doing and gives an enthusiastic description of each building, even if he's just had to run up two thousands steps (no mean feat at his age) to stand eye to eye with a giant buddha, or cut his way through a tropical junble to stand next to an ancient temple.
Dan also kept the tedious 'we're all doomed' lecturing to a minimum, although it still creeps in now and then. To be honest, this is a flaw with almost all documentary productions these days. (The producers must surely realise that they're preaching to the coverted by now? Fans of BBC2 already know about climate change and the destruction wrought by modern man upon the natural world. We probably don't need it rammed down our throats in every programme!)

In previous years, this type of programme would have been subtitled 'a personal view' because many of the conclusions which Dan draws are controversial, and which may cause you to start yelping back at the TV. That's surely a good thing -- this type of programme is supposed to educate and to create debate, and it certainly does both. For instance, the idea that an imposing Catholic cathedral in France represents 'beauty' was something we couldn't agree with: it towered above the landscape, oppressing the countryside beneath it... but Dan is entitled to his (very expert) opinion!

The title of the series is a little misleading, too; there are some episodes which have precious little to do with the architecture of buildings. They're not about how buildings are constructed or designed, but instead concentrate on how buildings are used. In the 'Death' epiosde, for instance, Dan virtually abandons the architeture altogether and looks at the rites, customs and rituals surrounding death, burial and cremation. The architecture hardly gets a look in. There's a little bit more about the engineering and contruction of the temples, monasteries and mosques in the 'Paradise' episode, but it's very superficial -- Dan explains briefly how cantilever action keeps a monastery attached to the side of a sheer Chinese mountain, and how the domes of Istanbul's mosques help to amplify the chanting prayers, but there's litte about bricks and mortar and lots about human society.

There are also some moments in this series which are very explicit, because Dan doesn't shy away from the odd moment of sexual revelation (as seen on a Hindu temple). You might come face to face with a shot polar bear at any moment, too. If watching with younger children you might want to check each episode first: there's plenty of good educational material but it may need a judicious moment of fast-forwarding. The first episode would be horribly embarassing if viewed with your mother-in-law, too!

Overall, each episode is an hour to enjoy and watch again. You'll learn plenty and have a good time doing it. Then if you want to follow this kind of theme in more depth, try The Ascent of Man or Kenneth Clark's Civilisation (both from the days when the BBC did really grown-up programme making!)
9/10
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 11 Apr 2008 22:02:47 BDT
jrhartley says:
As of your review date, there had been one episode of the six part series. I find it hard to know how you can review a series as a DVD on the grounds of the first episode - "Beauty". I'd have thought you'd have needed to have at least seen three of the six to be able to form a balanced opinion of the whole.

In reply to an earlier post on 16 May 2008 19:22:16 BDT
HTC Carr says:
Maybe he's, you know, read the book written by Dan Cruickshank, the book the series is based on?

In reply to an earlier post on 21 May 2008 17:24:54 BDT
Last edited by the author on 27 May 2008 09:19:28 BDT
jrhartley says:
Yeah, maybe you're right. And maybe, if you are, then she should, like, you know, write a review of the book, not the series she hadn't at that stage seen more than one episode of? Check me out in my old fashioned ways - what a quaint concept I'm clinging on to, writing reviews of the actual item rather than some faintly related version of it.

And anyway, if you read the review, you can tell it is based entirely on the content of the first episode in the BBC series.
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