"Connections" and "Ascent of Man"

Discussion in 'TV on DVD and Blu-ray' started by Joseph DeMartino, May 28, 2004.

  1. Joseph DeMartino

    Joseph DeMartino Lead Actor

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    I could swear I saw these two series mentioned in another thread recently, but a search of this forum turned up nothing.

    Starting this past Saturday The Science Channel ran a "classic science TV weekend" (which actually ran into the early part of this week) highlighting great science shows of the past. Two of them were The Ascent of Man: A personal view by Jacob Bronowski and Connections: An alternative view of change written and presented by James Burke. I watched these two series during thier original presentations on American television on PBS in the 1970s and 80s, and was surprised to find in watching them that I still remember whole chunks of them word-for-word. TSC ran both series in their entirety, which presented me with a problem: For the first time my 40 hour TiVO proved too limited - something I never expected to happen.

    I mostly time-shift with the TiVO, recording one show while watching another, grabbing shows that air at hours when I'm away from home. I don't archive shows, and 9 times out of 10 I watch them within 24 hours of when they air and immediately delete them. But with these two shows I wanted to record them all (at reasonable quality) and transfer them to videotape - which meant letting them run in real-time and thus having to save them for days until I could get the episodes transferred.) Given the amount of other stuff I normally record, and still wanted to, I found that I simply could not keep all the episodes of both - especially since I hardly ever user the VCR anymore and only had a single blank tape in the house the night I realized my dillema. [​IMG]

    The upshot of all this is that I've managed to archive The Ascent of Man onto two VHS tapes, but had to dump Connections, deleting some episodes unwatched so that I could keep Ascent long enough to finish transferring it.

    Three observations about both shows:

    1) Despite some of the science in each having been overtaken by events, they both remain informative and entertaining. Burke and Bronowski, each in his own way, has a charm that is hard to resist - though I prefer the rumpled Bronowski to the slicker and glibber Burke. [​IMG] Along with Cosmos these two series constitute the "triple crown" of popular science television up to about 1990. Few shows have even approached their level of quality since, and I can think of none that had the magic intersection of subject and host and these three did.

    2) The most striking place where the shows seem dated is not in the scientific theories they present (although Bronowski does present as fact that 1970s view that some lines of Neanderthal man survive in modern Europeans, something disproved in recent years by DNA evidence) but in the "state of the art" computer systems they use to illustrate their points. Bronowski's morphing of the various hominid skulls on a greenscreen cathode ray tube or Burke's illustration of "computer power" with a tape reel looked like something out of a time warp. Yet both have pertinent things to say about where computer and communication technology might (from their perspective) take us - which often turns out to be where it has taken us from ours. Given that Bronowski died in 1974, the year after he filmed his series for the BBC and the very year it first aired in the U.S., I'd say that's pretty good prognostication.

    3) Based on the quality of the broadcast masters used by The Science Channel, both these series are in dire need of restoration and repair. The colors are badly faded and the video looks too soft, even for the telecine work of the time.

    I think it is a crime that these two series (and Burke's follow-up Connections II, for all that I find it less interesting than the original) are not available on home video at all as far as I can tell, and certainly not on DVD - as they surely need to be. Given the dismal levels of science education and general understanding and appreciation of what science is and what it does among the general population, shows of this calibre are needed more now than when they were first broadcast. Burke and especially Bronowski make it clear that science and mathematics are intensely human endeavors, that they are the work of people with passions, likes, dislikes and prejudices just like our own, and that the product of that work affects us all profoundly in our daily lives. They are not subjects only of interest to odd-balls and egg-heads and "brains" and that one need not become a scientist in order to understand what science is and how it works, and how to judge scientific evidence and assertions.

    Today science issues are often also political issues, and only a scientifically literate population can make wise choices about such issues. One of the reasons that these issues have become so bitterly fought in recent years is that the loudest advocates on all sides tend to be scientific ignoramuses, while the vast majority of the public doesn't understand the issues or the science well enough to realize this - much less to form their own opinions and urge the government towards the action (or inaction) that seems like the best solution to them. Instead they stay on sidelines or they join the side that most appeals to their existing prejudices or their emotions, mouthing slogans written by others in support of positions they don't understand - vast opposing armies of the ignorant, led by the equally ignorant, or by the cynical who will use a "scientific" issue to advance some other agenda entirely.

    I don't give that overview of the situation - without specifics and without labels - to invite the kind of political disucssion rightly forbidden on this forum, but to point up the importance of having a population that understands, is interested in and cares about science. Bronowski and Burke and Sagan make their viewers care about science. They explode the stereotype of science and math as dull, dry, boring subjects engaged in by the kind of people you woudln't want to spend five minutes with. At the end of each episode of their series we felt sad that we only got to spend an hour in the company of these men - and that we'd have to wait a week to do so again. Children introduced to science in this way will at least see the possibility of the subject being interesting, however awful their textbooks and teachers may be in the classroom.

    The shows also less directly teach history, again rescuing it from the sheer awfulness that passes for much of American education, and even literature. Burke and Bronowski (and Sagan, though to a lesser degree if I recall correctly) expect their audience to have a least a smattering of education and even to have read a few books. That's probably too much to expect from today's high school students, but if Bronowski's discussion of the Lake Poets and Romanticism's relation to the Industrial Revolution, or the connection between The Marriage of Figaro and the French Revolution inspire viewers to learn more about literature as well as science and history, so much the better.

    Cosmos, of course, is available on DVD. I think it is high time it was joined by the other two jewels in the Science TV Triple Crown. I have no idea who owns the home video rights to these shows, or how to go about petitioning for their release. I hope someone here does. When I went to TVSshowsondvd.com I was appalled to find Connections barely mentioned and The Ascent of Man not even listed. I was checking from work, so can't log in and start voting, by I certainlly will when I get the chance.

    So, who else saw all or part of these series, last weekend, who will join me in an effort to get them the kind of DVD release they deserve?

    Joe
     
  2. Joe Isham

    Joe Isham Stunt Coordinator

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  3. Jeff_HR

    Jeff_HR Producer

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    Joseph the two programs are available for purchase HERE, for $149.99. I know that is very expensive, but it is a bargain compared to the $395.00 each that I paid nearly 2 years ago for "The Ascent of Man" & "Connections". The quality of the transfers is not what I would have liked considering the massive cost. But considering how very, very much I wanted the programs I accepted the mediocre transfers.


    You beat me to it Joe while I was composing my reply.

    This Thread and
    This Thread

    are a couple that turned up on a search for "Connections".


     
  4. Joseph DeMartino

    Joseph DeMartino Lead Actor

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    Well, I feel like about six different kinds of idiot. :b

    Obviously I had never heard of Documetnary Video or Ambrose and simply assumed that my failure to find the series on any major commercial DVD sites meant they didn't exist. (And, again, there is my recollection of a recent thread in which the absence of both from DVD was bemoaned - evidently a thread on a board with less expert members.)

    The prices are a bit stiff. Not to be crude about it, but the typical "one hour" dramatic show has about 22 44 minute episodes a season. Rounding off both episodes and times, let's say a represenative drama series that streets for around 80 bucks has 16.5 hours of primary show material in it. That's $4.84 an hour. These discs average almost $15.00 an hour.

    I don't think it is Documentary's estimate of their quality that sets so high a price, but their anticipation that they aren't going to sell very many sets at any price, and therefore they have to try to get their fixed up-front costs back as quickly as possible, because they won't enjoy the benefits of economy of scale. I frankly think they were foolish. More widely-advertised they might have sold many more sets, and the per unit costs (now mostly limited to replication and packaging) would have fallen sharply. If they had simply advertised on The Science Channel during the broadcast (or arranged to sell the videos through The Discovery Channel Store) they would also likely have been able to greatly increase their sales volume and actually lowered their price.

    As it is, I'm going to have to seriously think about such a commitment. The Ascent of Man I'll probably have to go for, despite the quality issues and the (in my eyes) still very high price. But I don't think I'll be able to justify any of the Connections sets, much less all of them. Pity.

    Thanks for again for rendering my entire lengthy post moot! [​IMG]

    Regards,

    Joe
     
  5. Jeff_HR

    Jeff_HR Producer

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    Part of the high cost of these documentary series is that the "Public Performance Rights are Included". If Documentary Video or Ambrose Video didn't include the cost of these "rights", perhaps the sets would not be so expensive. I've not purchased any of the subsequent Connections series even with the "Sale Price" of $149.99. I cannot afford them yet. I was understandably upset when these "sale" prices were announced about a year after I paid $395 per set. It all comes down to how badly you want the set(s).

    If you want to see expensive, check out the price they charge for their BBC Shakespeare Plays on DVD! You would need a mighty FAT wallet to buy those! [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
     
  6. Joe Isham

    Joe Isham Stunt Coordinator

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    The BBC Shakespeare is $995 at Documentary Video (no public performance rights) and $2,995 at Ambrose (public perormance included).
     
  7. Steve_Di

    Steve_Di Auditioning

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    Just read this thread and I am very sympathetic. I too watched the original Connections and Ascent of Man series on PBS WAY back when, and on the Science Channel last weekend. I'm astounded at how well they've held up after all these years. These were the first guys to put history and science together in a way that is totally engaging and fascinating. I am totally dismayed that these are not available at a reasonable price on DVD. After some 30 years, you'd think someone would be selling them to people OTHER than those in education? Do they really think there's no audience for great stuff like this? Just goes to show you what high regard "the industry" has for "the consumer". Sheesh. Anyway, for anyone who's interested, there is someone selling boxed sets (VHS, though) of Connections 2 on eBay for a much more rational $49. They are brand new and they have several.
     
  8. Jay Pennington

    Jay Pennington Screenwriter

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    James Burke's other documentary series (Civilisation I & II, The Day the Universe Changed) are also excellent.

    Too bad about that pricing--the "public performance" thing means they're marketing them to schools. That's a whole other industry than mass consumer entertainment, and is an appropriate price in that context. Alas.
     
  9. Marcee

    Marcee Agent

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    Actually, Civilisation is by Lord Kenneth Clark - and is available on VHS from Amazon ($99.95 US).

    There are also listings for Series 2 and 3 of Connections on VHS at Amazon, too ($99.95 each US).

    I have seen an advertisement for The Day the Universe Changed VHS for a whopping $749.95 US!!! I can't list the web link here due to not having 15 posts yet.
     
  10. Joseph DeMartino

    Joseph DeMartino Lead Actor

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    Yeah, but that's on (yech) VHS. If I wanted lousy quality I'd stick with outputting the shows from my TiVO to my VCR. [​IMG]

    Regards,

    Joe
     
  11. Jay Pennington

    Jay Pennington Screenwriter

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    Thanks for the correction, Marcee!
     
  12. Marcee

    Marcee Agent

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    No problem...
    I just thought it would help in a search. I have a few episodes of each of these series, so it just stuck in my mind that Clark did the "here's mountains of knowledge while you look at something pretty" version compared to Burke's "here's some really neat stuff you probably never thought about - don't you wish you had learned it this way in school?" version.
    [​IMG]
     

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