Seven Wonders of the Industrial World (2003)

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Released 7-Oct-2004

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary Main Menu Audio
Rating Rated E
Year Of Production 2003
Running Time 344:11 (Case: 350)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Edward Bazalgette
Paul Bryers
Mark Everest
Philip Smith
Studio
Distributor

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Paul Bryers
Gregory Evans
Mark Everest
Tony Mulholland
Christopher Spencer
Paul Wilmshurst
Rachel Wright
Robert Lindsay
Case Amaray-Transparent-S/C-Dual
RPI $39.95 Music The Fratelli Brothers


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    Seven Wonders of the Industrial World was a seven-part series that screened on the ABC here in Australia during the middle of 2004. With its blend of drama and documentary fact this series proved immensely popular with audiences on a Sunday evening, regularly winning its timeslot and having several of the episodes ranking in the top ten watched programmes for the week. It is now available on DVD as part of a two-disc set.

    Following on from the industrial revolution of the mid 18th to the mid 19th century where the very shape of society was altered forever, came a period of an amazing array of technical and engineering achievement the likes of which the world had never seen. The 130 odd years from the beginning of the 19th century saw the advent of the steam locomotive, the automobile and the aircraft, among a host of other feats both mechanical and civil. This seven-part series is dedicated to some of the most amazing civil engineering feats ever seen in the world, ranging from the early 1800s construction of Scotland's Bell Rock Lighthouse through to the 1930s depression era construction of the Hoover Dam.

    What's unique about this series is the manner in which each story is told. It is with the use of drama rather than straight documentary that is used to illustrate and capture the very human side of each story. Rather than a boring set of photos, construction facts and figures and a dry monotone narrator, we have actors playing the roles of those involved. We see their dreams, their challenges, and listen to their thoughts as they try to get each project finished on time against often insurmountable odds. Much of what they have to say is directly adapted from letters, notes, or newspaper cuttings of the day. There is still a narrator which adds realism and a documentary style to what we are seeing, but with the actors playing the roles of those involved we really do get a feel for just what it was like in the era that each story takes place.
   
    The wonders cover a wide and diverse range of projects from around the globe. They include engineering great Isambard Kingdom Brunel's extraordinary ship - The Great Eastern, the amazing achievement that was the Bell Rock Lighthouse, the near on impossible to achieve Panama Canal, and the imposing facade of the Hoover Dam.

    Seven episodes, seven imposing wonders of the industrial world. Well worth a look if you missed it when it was on television.
 

Episode 1 - The Great Ship (49:17)

    Engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel was a British engineer of great note who was chief engineer on the Thames tunnel project and also the Great Western Railway during the period of 1833-1846 where he was responsible for the laying of some 1600km of track. But it was his shipbuilding work that sees the focus of this first episode. In 1843 he had built The Great Britain, which was the first large steamer (and the largest ship in the world at the time) to be driven by a screw propeller. But he had always planned to make an even bigger ship and so commenced work on The Great Eastern. At 692 feet long, and with a revolutionary rib-less double iron hull (unheard of in a time when almost all ships were still built with wooden ribs), Brunel hoped this ship would change forever the way people viewed sea travel. He planned for it to be able to travel to Australia without refuelling and have capacity for more than 4000 passengers - all travelling in style and comfort.

    While the design of The Great Eastern was revolutionary, with multiple engines taller than a house, Brunel faced considerable criticism and challenges at every step. Many said his ship was just too big and just how would he launch it? After years of trouble with financers, disasters at the shipyard and injury to many workers, the ship was finally finished and launched in 1858.

    While it is the only one of the seven wonders that does not exist today, it still fills an important role in seafaring history. Its initial design is still pretty much the blueprint for how ships are built today and the lasting legacy of The Great Eastern was that it was the ship which laid the first Trans-Atlantic telegraph cable.

Episode 2 - The Brooklyn Bridge (49:19)

    In the mid 19th century, New York was among the fastest growing cities in the world, but with Manhattan and Brooklyn separated by the mighty East River something had to be done to link the two ever-growing boroughs. It was decided by the city fathers to build a bridge - but not just any bridge. This would be the longest suspension bridge ever built. A one mile single leap across the river. Its construction would challenge even the most ambitious engineer, but it would be the crowning achievement of whoever managed to complete it.

    German immigrant John Roebling was commissioned to build the bridge and his plans would see two mighty towers anchored firmly to 70-foot foundations on either side of the river. Steel wire rope would be slung or suspended between the spans, with the road surface hanging from the suspensions.

    But Roebling's ambitious dream was to cost him his life, in a tragic ferry mishap. It would ultimately fall to his son Washington to pick up where his father left off and complete the bridge. Washington invented a way for his workers to dig the foundations deep below the surface of the river without the need to divert the river. His use of Caissons or enclosed wooden structures with air pumped into them that sank slowly as the workers dug was revolutionary. But a mysterious new diseases that nobody had ever encountered before was claiming victim after victim. This disease became known simply as Caisson Disease, but we know it today as decompression sickness or the bends.

    Washington became affected by this disease himself, so great was his need to help his men dig the foundations. Suffering great pain and sickness he finally was forced to bed rest and could only watch construction from his sick bed window.

Episode 3 - Bell Rock Lighthouse (48:59)

    Scottish engineer Robert Stevenson was under the employ of the Northern Lighthouse Commission in Scotland when he put forward his plans to build the most ambitious lighthouse the world had ever seen. One of the most dangerous areas of the coast of Scotland was a stretch of reef, barely exposed above the waterline known as Inchcape or Bell Rock. Sitting just outside the entrances to the Firth of Tay and the Firth of Forth on the East coast of Scotland and 11 miles out to sea this treacherous rock was submerged under the surface of the raging North Sea for around 16 hours every day. The measure of this rock's danger occurred in 1799 when during a raging storm some 70 ships were either lost or stranded after either hitting the rock or coming to grief trying to avoid it.

    Stevenson was ambitious, but he was also quite junior in the engineering ranks, and so when the Lighthouse Commission finally agreed that a lighthouse was needed, they appointed John Rennie as chief engineer with Stevenson his assistant. Construction started in 1807, but with the rock covered by water for the better part of each day, work was only able to be carried out for a few hours at a time while the rock was exposed at low tide (and only during the calm weather months of summer) - it was going to be a long and slow process.

    This is the story of just how this famous lighthouse was built, and one man's dream to see it finished despite the insurmountable odds put up against him. But he managed it and to this day it still shines out across the North Sea, the oldest offshore lighthouse still standing anywhere in the world, and a truly remarkable piece of engineering. There's a superb website dedicated to the Bell Rock Lighthouse. Check it out since it contains a great deal of the history of this amazing structure in addition to a few photos which illustrate just what a precarious location on which it was built.

Episode 4 - The Sewer King (48:50)

    In the hot summer of 1858, the stink of London's decaying sewage system shut down parliament, so bad was the stench. The sanitation system had effectively not changed all that much since medieval times, and with London's population having more than doubled since the beginning of the 19th century something had to be done. But the city council could not agree on what to do and so did the easiest thing they could - nothing.

    But after 30,000 people had died from the three epidemics of cholera that swept through the city, those in charge had no choice but to swing into action. Sewage was piling up, coming up from the basements of those in the poor parts of the city. And the Thames was full of it. London was in the poo - literally - and its citizens were dying in ever increasing numbers.

    Sanitation engineer Joseph Bazalgette proposed a bold plan to solve the stink once and for all. His plan was to basically start again with London's sewers. His plan would see more than 1300 miles of new sewers constructed, including several new super-sewers that would rapidly move tons of sewage right out of London quickly and efficiently. Bazalgette would face many challenges in the race to get the sewers finished. Disruption to business, homes, and roads, plus the emergence of a new and space-competing underground railway would all make Bazalgette's task all the more difficult. But his design for a sewer system would eventually transform the city and set a standard for sanitation that was copied the world over.

Episode 5 - The Panama Canal (49:28)

    By the late 19th century shipping had become big business, with many rich shipping tycoons controlling vast empires of wealth. A French engineer had achieved international acclaim in 1869 when he completed the Suez Canal and linked the Indian Ocean with the Mediterranean Sea, thereby reducing travel times to the far east by months. This man, Ferdinand de Lesseps, now dreamed of an even bolder scheme - a link between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans via the Caribbean sea. This link would become known as the Panama Canal.

    But De Lesseps was to be beaten by the unrelenting jungle, bungled finances, mudslides, and a tropical disease which would claim more than 20,000 lives. It would take more than 25 years and a couple more chief engineers in the process before the Panama Canal would become a reality.

Episode 6 - The Line (49:09)

    With the American Civil War still raging, another battle was playing out on the prairies and mountains of the United States. With promises of untold riches and land grants being offered as a bounty, two teams of competing interests, one in the west and one in the east were racing across the country laying the railway track that would become the backbone of the country for many years to come.

    The world's first transcontinental railway line would take many years to complete and cost the lives of countless men including native American Indians and immigrant Chinese workers. But in the end, once it was complete, a journey that previously took many months of dangerous travel could now be completed in just seven days.

Episode 7 - The Hoover Dam (49:09)

    Arizona and Nevada were always among the more inhospitable regions of the continental United States. Harsh and hostile, with searing temperatures and little relief in the way of water or shade, it would take a miracle for people to ever be able to live and work in such an environment. But that miracle would eventually have a name - the Hoover Dam.

    By building a dam across the mighty Colorado River, engineers would be able to make the desert bloom and open up whole new areas for civilisation to flourish. But building a dam that would need to be more than 60 storeys high and contain more concrete than anything ever created before would be no easy task. The fact that the dam was built under budget and two years early is testament to the chief engineer Frank Crowe and his team of thousands of depression era hit workers. The result is truly a wonder of the industrial world.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    All seven episodes of this acclaimed series feature a lovely looking video transfer.

    All are presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and feature 16x9 enhancement. The video production uses a mix of newly filmed footage with actors to convey the drama side of the projects and intersperses this with some mock archival footage and some real archival footage. Obviously the newer projects such as The Hoover Dam feature significantly more archival footage since film cameras were in common use in the 1930s. Overall it is an excellent transfer, being sharp, clear, and brilliantly vibrant in colour. There are no traces of edge enhancement, and grain is absent in the new material. There is no low level noise.

    Colour levels are superb. They are vivid and vibrant with deep solid saturation.

    There are no compression artefacts. The majority of each episode features completely blemish free video, except for the odd bit of archival style (i.e. mocked up to look old) or real archival footage from the early part of the 20th century. Both forms of archival material contain pretty much every film artefact in existence, including scratches of varying lengths, blobs, blotches, and dirt. They sort of add to the realism though, and certainly do not distract from the viewing experience.

    Somewhat surprisingly and I must admit very disappointingly there are no subtitles present. This is contrary to the packaging which states the disc contains English subtitles.

    Both discs are dual layered with layer changes hidden between episodes.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    Quite a reasonable soundtrack graces this disc and even though it is only a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo soundtrack it performs the task required of it admirably. This being the only option, it is the soundtrack of choice. It's quite clean and solid with a decent low end for the many explosions and storms which seem to crop up during the construction of the many projects.

    Dialogue is by way of narration from Robert Lindsay and of course from the actors. There are no audio sync problems.

    The score used for each episode is quite rousing and evokes the mood of the era in which each episode is set. The themes for the turn of the 19th century Bell Rock Lighthouse episode are quite different to the Hoover Dam for example.

    There is no surround activity and no subwoofer use.



Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Main Menu Audio

    Sadly there are no extras on either of the two discs in this set.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    I can't find any reference to this title being available in either Region 1 or Region 2. I'm sure that will change soon and I'll update the comparison accordingly.

Summary

    Seven Wonders Of The Industrial World is a remarkable telling of some of the most amazing and revolutionary achievements in engineering the world saw during the period between 1800 and 1930. The mix of drama and documentary lends a whole new realism to each episode and really makes you feel you are watching the actual people involved with each project rather than a group of actors.

    The video and audio quality are excellent, but sadly there are no extras.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Darren Walters (It's . . . just the vibe . . . of my bio)
Wednesday, September 15, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDLoewe Xemix 5106DO, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Calida (84cm). Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL). This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL).
AmplificationHarmon/Kardon AVR7000.
SpeakersFront - B&W 602S2, Centre - B&W CC6S2, Rear - B&W 601S2, Sub - Energy E:xl S10

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