The opening credits of Big History urge us to think of time not as straight line, but as a web, with events separated across billions of years connected in complicated and intricate ways. Each episode examines a fairly benign object or concept (salt, gold, extreme cold) and shows how that small yet tangible thing has significantly shaped the course of human history.
The series is utterly fascinating, containing a lot of information that is not widely known, and tying each episode’s central theme to a variety of historical contexts. The episode on gold for example tells us that there is enough Gold beneath the surface of the earth to coat the surface in a layer of gold over 12 feet thick. It’s locked away in the Earth’s core, but the point is that gold is not as rare an element as we tend to assume. It has achieved such desirability because hundreds of years ago, when we were only aware of 8 different metals, gold was the only one that was pliable, solid, and non-corrosive, which made it perfect for use as currency, and instilled a subconscious equation of gold and value from generation to generation.
Honestly, the real reason I was so eager to check this series out was that Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) was narrating it. Besides being a phenomenal actor, he has captivating and charismatic voice which has a way of teaching you something effectively by holding your attention very well. Since his turn as Walter White on Breaking Bad, I’ll pretty much watch anything Cranston does for the foreseeable future. As an actor, he has displayed a ferocious versatility over the past few years and even listening to him talk about the industry of transporting ice from frozen lakes to tropical climates is captivating.
Just as Big History looks at history as a web of intertwined events, the series itself plays out in a web of connections you’re not likely to see until you watch every episode. I really appreciate structuring the series like this because it shows me that a lot of love went into the production; that the producers didn’t simply strive to fill 17 episodes with random glances at history. There’s a grand design at work behind every element of this series, and I have a lot of respect for that.
Special features include over 30 minutes of bonus footage, and an Ultraviolet digital copy of the series. Available on Blu-ray and DVD from Lionsgate on March 11.