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PLEASE NOTE: Michael D's is currently in READ ONLY MODE. Anything submitted will simply not be written to the database.
Lots of stuff is still broken, but at least reviews can now be looked up and read.
Empires-Napoleon (Roadshow) (2000)

Empires-Napoleon (Roadshow) (2000)

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Released 1-Nov-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary None
Rating Rated E
Year Of Production 2000
Running Time 216:30 (Case: 220)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By David Grubin

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring David McCullough
Case Amaray-Transparent-S/C-Dual
RPI $44.95 Music Michael Bacon

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
Not 16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    This is the 7th title in the great Empires documentary series to receive a review on this site, but was actually one of the very first in the series to have been produced, back in 2000, and also one of the very first to have been released on DVD, in November last year. As it happens, I would argue that this title is also one of the very best in the Empires series too, a combination of the fascinating subject matter, great writing style and high production standards.

    By way of background, the Empires documentary series was produced over the years 1999-2003 and created 11 different documentaries in total, with each subject story told using between 2 to 4 one-hour episodes. Each title in the series deals with a different period in man's history, in which a particular supreme dominion or religious belief ruled or prevailed, or went on to ultimately leave a mark on mankind in a profound and permanent way. Each title in the series has been written, produced and directed for the most part largely independently of all the others, and so each tackles its subject matter from a slightly different angle. Each documentary may deal with a specific aspect or aspects of the particular empire in question, such as telling the history of how that empire was established or came to pass, how the previous rule or convention was challenged and overthrown, or even just what life must have been like, according to the best/most current knowledge of historians, under the rule at that time.

    The 11 episodes of the Empires series have been receiving a slow release on DVD in Region 4 since November last year. Nearly all of the titles released to date have now been reviewed by this site, as indicated by the links following, where shown. The following list is the list of titles in order of DVD release date (not necessarily corresponding to their exact order of production): Napoleon, Queen Victoria's Empire, Japan: Memoirs of a Secret Empire, Egypt's Golden Empire, The Greeks: Crucible of Civilisation, The Roman Empire: In the First Century, Martin Luther, Peter and Paul and the Christian Revolution, Islam, Kingdom of David: The Saga of the Israelites and The Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance (the last title due for release November this year). The final 3 titles in the series yet to be reviewed will be reviewed shortly. For the most up-to-date listing of all these reviews, please do a search under "Empires" on the site's home page review search engine.

    This Empires documentary series has been, generally speaking, of excellent production quality. As stated, each title in the series has been written, produced and directed independently of the others, and therefore it is expected that each tackles its subject matter in a slightly different way. Of necessity, you can not expect every single title to convey the absolute, definitive story of every single aspect of that particular empire. Rather, each episode covers the main timeline of crucial key events for that period in history and at the same time offers a rare insight into specific aspects of the time. All titles are extremely well-researched, featuring interviews with prominent historians and relevant experts. Above all, each episode successfully puts into context the impact and legacy of that period on the future of mankind. Having reviewed most of the titles in the Empires series now, I for one have been very impressed with the overall writing and production quality on offer and found this series to be, on the whole, an outstanding success as a highly authoritative, well-researched, entertaining and enlightening documentary series.

    The story of Napoleon Bonaparte is a fascinating one. The fact that this particular documentary on his life is so well researched, written, and lovingly produced only makes the story even more riveting viewing. The four episodes on this double-DVD set are:   

    Regardless of what you may think of Napoleon, he was undeniably one of the greatest military strategists who ever lived. He was also one of the world's most powerful men, controlling in his time a mighty empire spanning at its peak the majority of Europe. But above all this, Napoleon's was a fascinating life and this documentary tells that life story with conviction and even-handedness. It makes for riveting viewing.

    One final comment re the lack of chapter markers: As with all the other DVDs in the Empires series, by oversight there is a lack of adequate chapter markers on these DVDs. In the case of Napoleon, there are in fact no chapter markers at all (that is, a single chapter covers each entire episode). This is a bad oversight, as there are clearly differentiated subtopics and section breaks when watching the programme that should have been used for chapters. As it is, there is no quick access available to any of the key sections within each episode, so if you want to find a particular section, you have to manually search through the episode from the beginning until you come across it. Annoying.

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Transfer Quality


    As with several of the DVDs in this series now, the quality of the video transfer on this disc is quite good, only let down by a lack of 16x9 enhancement. This is now the fourth DVD in this series reviewed so far to lack 16x9 enhancement - a frustrating slip-up in mastering, when the majority of DVDs in the Empires series do feature 16x9 enhancement.

    The presented aspect ratio for this DVD is the original 1.78:1, as screened on SBS TV, but as stated the transfer is NOT 16x9 enhanced. Consequently sharpness, grain and the like is marginally worse off, as we have to zoom in to the image to fill a widescreen display.

    Sharpness is generally quite high (and would have been great with 16x9 enhancement) and this is as we would expect of a fairly recently produced, decent budget documentary series. Most scenes in the transfer offer quite pleasing levels of detail in both foreground and background resolution, with only some grain evident throughout (again, grain would not have been nearly as noticeable an issue if the transfer was 16x9 enhanced). Most scenes also offer a perfectly sufficient level of shadow detail and no low level noise. As has been the case for all other DVD releases in this series however, there is noticeably more grain evident in the low light scenes (evidently a source issue) and as a result there is softer resolution and the occasional low level noise issue in these scenes. Still, as the vast majority of the action in this documentary is either re-enactments in daytime, well lit interview footage of  historians talking about the period, or footage pouring over paintings and artworks of the time to illustrate a certain battle or point under discussion, the low-light issues are not a significant detractor in this transfer and the vast majority of this DVD transfer boasts very good image quality.

    Colour is consistent and very well rendered, showcasing a varied colour palette that accentuates oranges and browns effectively. Skin tones are perfectly fine and black levels are quite solid, dropping off a bit only in the occasional low-light scene.

    As with previous releases in the Empires series, again there are virtually no artefacts to note at all. This is a clean and very well-handled transfer. MPEG artefacts are restricted to some minor pixelization noted in some scenes (a problem only highlighted by the lack of 16x9 enhancement). Film-to-video artefacts are restricted to only the most minor instances of near-aliasing, for examples on the gates of the Palace of Versailles (at Episode 1, 13:47), or on the window shutters (at Episode 2, 27:28). There are no film artefacts at all, other than the aforementioned visible grain in the low-light scenes.

    The English for the Hearing Impaired subtitle language stream is clear, well timed and accurate. However there is the same complaint with placement of these subtitles as has been made in respect of the other DVDs in this series lacking 16x9 enhancement, that is the complaint in respect of the poor placement of the bottom line of subtitles below the bottom of the 1.78 image. This means that if attempting to watch this transfer on a widescreen TV in "cinema mode" or equivalent zoomed-in mode in order to fill the screen, you will find you are missing the bottom line of subtitles - very annoying indeed, as this documentary contains a good proportion of French language narration used throughout. The best compromise, if watching this DVD on a widescreen TV, is to watch in "14:9" mode.

    Both discs in this set are single-layered, so there is no layer change to note.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


     As with previous releases in the series, the quality of the audio transfer is again very high, featuring a perfectly sufficient English Dolby Digital 2.0 track (this time encoded at the maximum rate 448Kb/s).

    Dialogue quality cannot be faulted at all; the narrator (David McCullough) is engaging, interesting and enunciates very clearly throughout. I had no issues with the audio sync.

    The music score is appropriate, lending well to the context (although I was sick of the main theme by the end of the documentary!). The DVD's audio transfer handles the music score clearly across the range.

    Whilst this does not appear to be a specifically surround-flagged audio track, there is a bit of information for the Dolby Pro LogicII decoder to matrix to the rear speakers. It picks up a nice amount of music and ambience for the rear speakers for a good portion of the feature. Of course at other times of pure narration - a good majority of the feature - the surrounds remain effectively silent.

    Subwoofer use (depending on your amp's bass management settings) is minimal, but in my setup effective enough for things like cannon blasts, of which there are a few in this documentary.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    As with all other DVDs in the series, the only extra we get is an advertisement for the Empires series, presented using 5 text screens showing 2 titles each (note: actually, there are 11 titles in the series - one is missing). Selecting any title returns a single text screen giving a very brief blurb. This is just an exercise in advertising, not an extra.


    After a short main menu introduction sequence, being animated with audio in 1.78:1 (but not 16x9 enhanced), the main menu for this DVD itself is static, presented in 1.33:1 and with (somewhat repetitive) audio underscore. The menu design is sufficient for the basic job at hand.

R4 vs R1

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

    The Empires series has not been released in Region 2 yet, but has been released in Region 1, in identical format to our Region 4 product. Therefore opt for the local release for the superior PAL transfer and price.


    Yet another authoritative, well-researched and highly enlightening documentary in the Empires series. This one is a two-disc set, spanning four one-hour episodes that comprehensively covers the history of the life of Napoleon Bonaparte. Regardless of what you may think of the young Emperor, the events of his life make for fascinating history, and this very well written and well produced documentary simply makes for riveting viewing. Another highly recommended title in this series.

    Video quality is good, although annoyingly hindered this time (again) by a lack of 16x9 enhancement.

    Audio quality is very good.

    As with all the DVDs in this series, there are no extras.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Sean Abberton (read my bio)
Wednesday, October 06, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDDenon DVD-2900, using Component output
DisplayNEC 125cm Widescreen Plasma. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL). This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderRotel RSP-1068 Pre-amp/Processor. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationElektra Theatre 150 Watts x 6 channel Power Amplifier
SpeakersOrpheus Aurora III mains, Orpheus Centaurus 1.0 centre, Velodyne CT150 sub and B&W DM303 rears

Other Reviews NONE