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Gail Willumsen
Narrated By:
Jay O. Sanders
Writing Credits:
Gail Willumsen

This riveting documentary from the filmmakers at NOVA seeks to uncover the mysterious origins of the massive stone structure in Salisbury Plain, England known as Stonehenge. Dating back 5000 years to the late stone age, the purposes of the structure and the way it was constructed have spurred continual debate, but in the program, scientists and archaeologists pose theories about how and why it came to be.

Rated NR

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

Runtime: 54 min.
Price: $24.95
Release Date: 11/9/2010

• None


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Secrets Of Stonehenge (NOVA) (2010)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 14, 2011)

“In ancient times...
Hundreds of years before the dawn of history
Lived a strange race of people: the Druids.”

“No one knows who they were or what they were doing
But their legacy remains
Hewn into the living rock... of Stonehenge”.

So sayeth the Tap, and who am I to argue? Despite Mr. Tufnel’s claims that no one knows nuttin’ about the monument, a 2010 documentary that looks at the famous site. Narrated by actor Jay O. Sanders, we get comments from University of Sheffield’s Mike Parker Pearson, British Archaeology’s Mike Pitts, Wessex Archaeology’s Jacqueline McKinley, University of Sheffield’s Christie Cox, University of Manchester’s Julian Thomas, Jim Rylatt and Colin Richards, University of Exeter’s Andrew Young and Bruce Bradley, University of Leicester’s Clive Ruggles, and archaeologist Ramilisonina.

Across the show, we see a mix of elements. In addition to the interview snippets, we watch a lot of footage shot at Stonehenge itself, most of which depicts research there. We also see historical reenactments and computer simulations to offer a glimpse of Stonehenge in its original state and aspects of the society that built it.

While the title may promise Secrets of Stonehenge, the show really delivers The Search for Secrets of Stonehenge. This means we see a lot of the archaelogists’ attempts to discover new info about the site but actual revelations remain scarce. Though we get a smattering of theories, we don’t hear much that goes into greater depth.

Which makes the program a bit of a disappointment. I guess I expected it to offer a nice history of the site – at least based on what we know – but the show doesn’t delve into that side of things in a particularly well. Oh, it gives us basics, but it doesn’t develop these with much gusto; it seems a lot more interested in shots of the current research than anything else.

I can’t fault the program terribly for that decision, as it’s a valid one. However, I think the title Secrets of Stonehenge promises a stronger emphasis on those actual “secrets” and less on the gruntwork required to discover them. While I appreciate the effort the archaeologists invest in their research, I can’t say I find it fascinating to watch them do so.

Despite this disappointment, I do think Secrets of Stonehenge offers a fairly interesting documentary. To be sure, I learned quite a lot from it, though that may be more of a reflection of my Spinal Tap-level ignorance; I can’t say I’d read much about the site, so almost any info is new to me. I’d like something that concentrates more on the general history, but Secrets still has some good points.

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

Secrets of Stonehenge 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 was a consistently bland presentation.

Sharpness seemed erratic. The program consisted of a mix of “talking head” interviews, footage shot on location, and computerized recreations. These could look rough and blocky, but they generally appeared reasonably accurate and concise. Definition was never poor, but it was never particularly good, either.

Moderate issues connected to jagged edges and shimmering occurred, and light signs of edge enhancement could be seen. Unintentional source flaws weren’t an issue; the show treated fake archival footage with artificial specks and lines, but I didn’t view those as true problems. Digital artifacts gave the show a grainy look at times, though, and the image tended to be somewhat rough, especially when movement occurred.

Colors were mediocre. The program featured a natural palette, though “archival footage” adopted a sepia look. Most of the show went with unaffected hues, and these were bland and mushy. Greens dominated and tended to be flat. Blacks were acceptable, and shadows showed decent delineation. Overall, this tended to be a messy presentation, though its occasional positives kept it at “C-“ level.

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

Don’t expect any extras here, as we get absolutely nothing. Boo!

Although it concentrates too much of research and not enough on data, Secrets of Stonehenge provides a reasonably engaging view of its topic. It lacks great depth, but it delivers a fair amount of information about its subject. The DVD comes with flawed picture, average audio and no supplements. This DVD is too weak to recommend a purchase, but Stonehenge buffs may want to rent it.

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