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Tom Brokaw, Cokie Roberts
Writing Credits:
Ron Chernow

Exploring the iconic American political and financial institutions he helped to create - from the U.S. Mint and Wall Street to the two-party political system - we'll examine Hamilton's enormous influence that still resonates today.

Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1/16X9
English Dolby 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 84 min.
Price: $14.98
Release Date: 11/14/2017

• None


Hamilton: Building America (2017)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 15, 2017)

Thanks to the success of a certain Broadway musical, interest in Alexander Hamilton stands at a high level. The Founding Father becomes the focus of a 2017 History Channel documentary called Hamilton: Building America.

The program mixes dramatic recreations with the usual “talking head” interviews. We hear from musical creator Lin-Manual Miranda, TV newsman Tom Brokaw, political commentator Cokie Roberts, op-ed columnist Paul Krugman, former US Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin, Fortune magazine staff writer Christopher Matthews, New York Post publisher/CEO Jesse Angelo, and historians Richard Brookhiser, Joanne B. Freeman, Stephen Knott, John Sedgwick, Thomas Fleming and Ron Chernow.

Though I majored in history, I admit my knowledge of Hamilton remained modest. I preferred 20th century topics, and when I explored the period covered by Hamilton’s life, I felt more interested in the American Revolution, so most of this documentary’s material became new to me.

84 minutes doesn’t leave a lot of breathing room to cover the life of such a significant figure – even if Hamilton died at the age of 47. He accomplished an awful lot in that relatively short span, so Building lacks much space to tell the tale.

The filmmakers appear to realize this, so they turn Building into a documentary with an urgent feel – too urgent, to be honest. The program flies past us at such a rapid pace that we rarely get time to take in and reflect on what we learn.

The stylistic choices don’t help. Building tends to feel like a Michael Bay approach to a documentary, as it mixes quick cuts, spinning cameras and dramatic music that covers every second of the show.

I get that the filmmakers want to give history some oomph, especially given the inherently dry nature of so much of the material. Face it: a show about a guy who helped make policy doesn’t exactly lend itself to engrossing story telling, so Building needs some way to spring to life.

While I get that, I still wish the show gave us a calmer view of the subject. The urgent style becomes wearying, as the hyperactive pacing grows tiresome quickly.

Which feels like a shame, as clearly Alexander Hamilton offers a subject who deserves our attention. And to be fair, we certainly learn a lot about him here, as the show covers the most prominent aspects of his life.

I just feel like it moves so quickly that little of this material will stick with the viewer. A longer, better-paced Building America would’ve been more satisfying than this frantic effort.

The DVD Grades: Picture C+/ Audio C+/ Bonus F

Hamilton: Building America appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. This felt like an average SD-DVD presentation.

Sharpness usually seemed fine, as the program consisted of a mix of historical recreations and modern “talking head” interviews. These could occasionally look a little rough and blocky, but they generally appeared reasonably accurate and concise.

Mild issues connected to jagged edges and shimmering occurred, but no signs of edge enhancement occurred. Source flaws weren’t an issue, though some light digital artifacts gave the show a bit of a grainy look.

Colors were satisfactory. The program featured a natural palette for interviews but went with more of an amber tint for the recreations. These tones looked decent, though they lacked much pep.

Blacks were fairly dark and tight, and low-light shots seemed acceptably distinctive. While this was never a dynamic image, it remained perfectly watchable.

I thought the Dolby 2.0 soundtrack of Hamilton was also acceptable. The soundfield had little going for it. Music showed decent stereo imaging, and a few effects spread out across the front and rear.

These were minor, though, and didn’t add much to the experience. That said, a documentary like this didn’t need a dynamic soundscape, so I didn’t mind the bland presentation.

Audio quality was fine. Speech sounded natural and concise, without edginess or other problems.

Music seemed full and rich, and effects were decent; they didn’t demand much of the mix, but they appeared accurate enough. This was a perfectly serviceable soundtrack for a documentary.

No extras appear here.

A major figure in American history, Alexander Hamilton becomes the focus of Building America. Unfortunately, the documentary rushes through the material in such a hyperactive manner that it becomes a less than satisfying exploration of the subject matter. The DVD offers average picture and audio with no supplements. Building America acts as a passable teaser for those interested in Hamilton, but I suspect a good book would work much better.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.6666 Stars Number of Votes: 3
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