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The Men Who Built America(TV) (2012)
No synopsis for The Men Who Built America.
For more about The Men Who Built America and the The Men Who Built America Blu-ray release, see the The Men Who Built America Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on January 20, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Eric Rolland, Tim Getman, Adam Jonas Segaller, David Donahoe, John C. Bailey, Cary Donaldson
Narrator: Campbell Scott
» See full cast & crew
The Men Who Built America Blu-ray Review
If they had a hammer. . .
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, January 20, 2013
The awards season is in full swing as this review is being written, with the Golden Globes having just been handed out and the Academy Awards coming up soon on film lovers' dockets. If Steven Spielberg's Lincoln was a surprise shut out at the Globes, taking home only the expected Best Actor trophy for Daniel Day-Lewis, it's expected to do significantly better at the Oscars, where a perhaps less hip crowd may prove to be a more favorable voting demographic. Lincoln has been one of Spielberg's most acclaimed recent films, but let's face it: the director and screenwriter Tony Kushner had a semi-mythic figure to build their film around to begin with. Few Presidents have had had the lasting impact that Lincoln has, and Honest Abe regularly tops polls of the greatest men to ever have held that office. Those who have been flocking to catch Lincoln in the multiplexes may well want to spend a little time following up with The Men Who Built America, for in one of this interesting series' most unexpected gambits, it actually starts where Spielberg's Lincoln more or less endsówith the sixteenth President's assassination. The death of Lincoln is used as both a literal turning point and a figurative metaphor for a perhaps more spiritual changing of a sociopolitical zeitgeist, where leadership passed from a Chief Executive in politics to enterprising individuals, templates for what are now called entrepreneurs. Concentrating on a quartet of iconic business titans, The Men Who Built America is an often fascinating window into the half century or so after Lincoln's demise, when the Industrial Revolution erupted into full swing in the United States and a determined breed of rugged pioneers forged not just almost unimaginable personal success but also lasting changes upon our entire nation.
Malcolm Gladwell's fascinating 2008 book Outliers: The Story of Success made the perhaps provocative thesis that as single minded, skilled, talented and ambitious that all incredibly successful people are, they're also in the right place at the right time (at least for the most part). Some more conservatively minded might perceive this to be a sort of literary riff on the "you didn't build that" meme that became a staple of the campaign trail during the last Presidential election, but Gladwell's assertion is really pretty common sense on its face. Bill Gates had unbelievable, undeniable intuition and brilliance at his beck and call, but he also happened to attend the only school in the nation with a programmable computer back in the day. Who's to say what might have happened had that not been the case? The Men Who Built America takes a similar, if perhaps less overt, approach to its subjects, making it clear that while each of these icons had a unique vision which allowed them to dominate their chosen fields, those fields were in a very real way simply laying fallow and waiting for someone to come along to take advantage of the situation.
The Men Who Built America is an uncommonly good History Channel miniseries for a number of reasons. Like Spielberg's Lincoln, it benefits from have focal subjects that are icons, names that rank among the most recognizable and remain the most inherently meaningful (for better or worse) for generations of Americans. But the series also benefits from the perhaps unexpected throughline it develops over its eight episodes. Some of these connections are part and parcel of interactions between some of the men covered in the miniseries, most notably Vanderbilt and Rockefeller, but there are all sorts of other connections that weave through this multi- decade tale and make it in a very real way like a living tapestry.
There are a couple of issues with The Men Who Built America, some of which seem to be endemic to these History outings. The most prevalent problem is repeated material. We get recaps after every place there was a commercial in the original broadcast version, and even from episode to episode there's a certain "same old, same old" to some of the information (there could be a drinking game out of how many times we see Cornelius Vanderbilt sucking on his stogie above the rail yards, except that it would probably lead to alcohol poisoning). And while the series doesn't really shirk from at least some of the peccadilloes of its focal subjects, some aspects, as in Ford's infamous anti-Semitism, aren't given the weight they really should have been given.
Ironically, it's another presidential assassination which brings this era to a close. At least a couple of the figures profiled here worked tirelessly to elect William McKinley as President, since he, unlike his rival William Jennings Bryan, had no special interest in breaking up monopolies to "level the playing field". McKinley's murder brought about the ascension of Teddy Roosevelt who did indeed launch a campaign of breaking up the modern day fiefdoms of men like J.P. Morgan.
Generally speaking, this is an unusually informative and compelling miniseries, one of the best that History has brought out over the past several years. The reenactments are generally of a high order, the physical production is quite handsome and the ubiquitous CGI is often quite captivating as well. The world might have seemed like it had ended the night Lincoln was murdered, and in a way it had, plunging the world into the shadows of tragedy and depression. But there was a new dawn approaching as well, and The Men Who Built America were there, waiting for the sunrise.
The Men Who Built America Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Men Who Built America is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Lionsgate Films (A&E and therefore History's new distributor) with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.78:1. As mentioned above in the main body of the review, this is an uncommonly handsome History production, and it's also notable in that finally History doesn't resort to nonstop "shaky cam" antics (though there are occasional fast zooms in and out). This high definition presentation looks quite sharp and clear almost all of the time, with nicely modulated color (some sequences have been intentionally desaturated or given a kind of sepia tone look) and abundant fine detail in the close-ups. There's nice differentiation between the reenactments, which frequently have been fairly aggressively color graded, and the contemporary talking heads segments, which retain a more natural appearance. Contrast remains strong and black levels are full and solid. All in all, a commendable new beginning for the partnership between Lionsgate and A&E.
The Men Who Built America Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The Men Who Built America features a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that is, for the most part anyway, nicely mixed and full of some great immersive effects. History loves to tart up their soundtracks with omnipresent low frequency effects, and while it's not quite as bad in The Men Who Built America as in some other outings, the nonstop low end assault does occasionally just slightly mask Campbell Scott's excellent narration. Otherwise, though, this is a solid sonic rendering, with good, and really fairly consistent, use of the surround channels, excellent fidelity, and appealing dynamic range.
The Men Who Built America Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Men Who Built America Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
My late mother grew up in Pennsylvania in Andrew Carnegie country and used to lament that no one pronounced Carnegie the "correct" way (namely "Car-NAY-gee"). She would be pleased to hear that at least intermittently some people do pronounce it that way, but that's just one of the smaller pleasures that this really quite informative miniseries offers. Full of fascinating anecdotal information, as well as generally solid overviews of each of these icon's lives, The Men Who Built America gives quite a bit of insight into the tenor of the American Spirit in the late 19th and early 20th century, at least insofar as it was embodied in these incredible men. This three disc Blu-ray set offers solid video and audio and comes with some brief but appealing supplements. Highly recommended.
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The Men Who Built America Blu-ray, News and Updates
• The Men Who Built America Blu-ray - November 7, 2012
Liongsate Films have officially announced that they will release on Blu-ray The Men Who Built America. The series tells the great stories of America's most influential builders and dreamers: Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, Henry Ford, Cornelius Vanderbilt and John ...
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