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My son (7) and I have been enjoying “America: the Story of US,” a 12-part series about the history of the United States.
Of immediate note is that the series uses actors and computer-generated effects and graphics to recreate important moments in our history.
More to the point, the kung-fu movie technique of freezing motion, then having the camera pivot and zoom to a new perspective, is frequently used and to good effect, eliciting many “way cool” mutterings from both me and the kid. The technique is used to illustrate the trajectory of a musket ball in the Revolutionary War and the Minié ball in the Civil War. I look forward to more of this in the coming wars.
Freedom from archival sources means higher entertainment value which is key to getting the kid amped about history.
Another technique which made me smile was when the camera showed a resident of the early Jamestown settlement, the scene froze and became black and white while the voice-over narrator gave a brief bio of the person, reminding me of Mission Impossible and genre spy thrillers.
But there is content. Perhaps as a nod to current trends to recognize “game changing” technologies, the series generally emphasizes technological breakthroughs over personalities. The point is made that the Union won the Civil War in large part because President Lincoln made extensive use of the telegraph to get a comprehensive picture of unfolding battles as well as railroads to move materiel.
Also sprucing things up is that the commentators are not only a gang of crusty academics, but an A-list cast of pundits, entrepreneurs, comics and athletes, commenting on the American spirit as well as specific historical events.
Weirdly enough I find Donald Trump speaking about entrepreneurship in America a good outlet for his personality and hair.
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