Top critical review
31 people found this helpful
on 26 March 2011
In truth I would give this three and a half stars if I could; it's not worth four but three seems a little harsh. And why isn't it worth four (or more) stars? Firstly, it only covers the first three crusades, whereas the blurb here (and on the DVD cases themselves) gives the very definite impression of covering the entire period, until the fall of Acre in 1291. In fact everything after the third crusade, almost one hundred years of history, are dealt with in less than five minutes right at the end of disc three. Still, there are undoubtedly those who wouldn't be too worried about getting something that's not what is advsertised. Therefore we turn to a worse problem with this series - the narration.
The inclusion of a good number of famous crusade historians, from both sides of the religious divide, gives the series an authority sadly lacking in so many other documentaries. This should have been a winner then, but the narration entirely lets it down. Firstly, it's done by an American who insists on pronouncing everything incorrectly. Secondly, the content of the narration is often at odds with the crusade experts and, indeed, with itself. It also seems to have been written by someone following their own agenda rather than simply sticking with the history, which is very unhelpful. Unnecessary superlatives are the order of the day and many statements are made without context.
Having said all that, anyone watching this who has no or little knowledge of the crusades will definitely come away much better informed, if with the occassional odd idea. The inclusion of actual crusade experts as opposed to generic and overly enthusiastic American scholars does help to keep the documentary mostly on course, and provides names to look up for people who want to study this fascinating period further. Another winning aspect of the series is the inclusion of so much primary evidence, read out by actors decked out as the authors. They can definitely be annoying at times but I cannot think of a better way of getting so much contemporary writing in, without boring the general viewer. I must reiterate that this IS a documentary, in this case done in the familiar History Channel style of constantly showing the same dodgy re-enactment over and over.
So, if you feel you can cope with the dodgy narration and can get over the fact that this only covers the first three crusades despite advertising more, then you should definitely give it a go. If you cannot, avoid it and read a book instead. For example, both Thomas Ashbridge and Johnathan Phillips (who appear in this series) have written wonderful general histories of the crusades.