To sum up The Men Who Built America in a couple words would not sound very professional but it would read: The Men Who Built America is so very awesome! Now, like I said not, this is not particularly professional or explanatory, but it’s still true. With that being said, at least give me the chance to explain just why it is so awesome.
This isn’t the story of the forefathers and how they took America from Britain, The Men Who Built America is the story of the men, post-Civil War, who took America and made it an industrial and international powerhouse. And they did all this through ingenuity, hard work, ruthlessness, and genius. The series focuses on five main characters; Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Carnegie, Morgan, and Ford. These men became multimillionaires (the equivalent of billionaires in our time) and built industries that still stand today. They have names that we know, and we even have laws that forbid us from doing what they did in order to make money. We are no longer allowed to have a monopoly in this country, all because these men decided to try something that no one had and stamp out all of his competition. Today we feel that competition in the market place is healthy and creates better prices and products, but someone had to show that was the case in order for us to now feel that way.
The production value on The Men Who Built America is apparent from the very beginning: top-notch. It is a documentary and what you are watching are technically reenactments but they are done in ways that I find just gorgeous and have hopes that more documentary series will be done in this way from now on. Whilst you are aware this is a documentary series, and is done mostly with narration, the reenactments are done in a drama-like manner. While watching it, you begin to feel that the series could almost be done without the narration. The actors are given lines and the time-line is logical and there is not a lot of repetition. In a normal documentary there tends to be some scenes that are used over and over again, for instance in a documentary about the civil war who may have two scenes of men walking into battle, which are used continuously throughout the series when they are discussing battles. This is not the case in The Men Who Built America, the only times they reuse footage is when they are giving the short recaps after commercial breaks or the beginning of the next episode. If they use the footage again during the regular timeline, it makes sense and doesn’t feel as if it is just being used in order to fill the time while the narrator is speaking.
We should also mention the great look of the reenactments themselves. The sets, costumes, and even the CGI are just great. It is shot better than some feature length films I have seen. The people involved in this aspect should be commended; they managed to bring this era of our history to life both visually and emotionally. You really begin to feel what the people living in that time period must have felt through the way this is put together. The ambiance of the times is apparent. Being a History piece, I am glad to see they put just as much work into this aspect as they did the information they give through the narration. The visuals and feel of the documentary can be just as important as the information, it really bring history alive.
Now, lets talk about that other part of a documentary, the information. When watching a documentary series, particularly from History and A+E, you expect to be given interesting, educational, and factual information. This is true for The Men Who Built America. One thing that I found particularly interesting was the tense in which the narration was being given, which is the present tense. Normally when watching a documentary about past events, it is given in the past tense but considering the drama like nature of this series the bulk of it is done in the present as you are seeing it on the screen. Again this really works to put you in within the events as they are unfolding, which will get you intellectually and emotionally linked to the characters and events. What a great thing to say about a documentary series. I am really looking forward to what is going to be coming our way next considering the beauty of this series.
The blu-ray collection from A+E entertainment and History, includes three discs, which have all eight episode originally aired on television as well as bonus footage that was not aired. The episodes are “A New War Begins”, “Oil Strike”, “A Rivalry is Born”, “Blood is Spilled”, “A New Rivalry Emerges”, “Owning It All”, “Taking the White House”, and “The New Machine.” The bonus footage includes; “From Rich to Richer”, “The American Dream”, “Monopoly”, “Competitive Nature”, “The Every Man”, “The Rise of Cornelius Vanderbilt” “Traits of a Titan”, and “Carnegie”.