Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Crusades - the Cresent & the Cross

Though much of the History Channel's modern history coverage (particularly WWII-era) is very good, medieval buffs often feel slighted when it comes to subjects in our favorite era. Offerings are few and far between, and what is available is often more focused on the sensational than the factual, and not up to snuff in terms of accuracy for most of us medieval enthusiasts.

It has been pointed out that when it comes to modern history, THC has full-color films, photographs and recordings, well-preserved physical evidence, functioning vehicles like fighter planes and, best of all, living witnesses to speak on their own personal experiences. In comparison, what is there for medieval topics like the Crusades? It's very difficult to make a subject come alive when all you have are some crumbly old ruins and even more crumbly manuscripts.

But Crescent and the Cross has more to offer.

In this new production, Lion Television and the History Channel have actors in fairly accurate costumes to portray historical figures with passion and depth. They have lavish sets, stunning replicas of historical artifacts, and top-notch computer animation to recreate Antioch, Constantinople and Jerusalem as they once were. There are exciting battle scenes, filmed with the immediacy and vividness of any big-screen epic. They've got charismatic historians like Jonathan Phillips and Taef el-Azhari to visit historic sites, ramble among the ruins, and tell stories of the Crusades with authority and enthusiasm. And they have Keith David to pull it all together with his marvelous narration.

The result is a splendid, absorbing program that serves up the Crusades on a platter. It's interesting, it's visually appealing, it's sensational -- it's even informative. But is it accurate?

For the most part, yes. The producers make good use of primary source material, and the interviewees offer substantive explanations of events and the general milieu of the Crusading world. There's even a certain amount of balance, as when covering the possible motivations for Crusaders:

Thomas Asbridge: "I'm sure they've got other agendas . . . but if there's one thing that's at the core, and that's across the largest range of people, it's spirituality, it's religion that's driving this."

Tariq Ali: "Nothing is ever motivated purely by religion or ideology . . . They wanted the money, it was as simple as that."

Of course there are some omissions and errors. For example, the People's Crusade (which can be considered the first wave of the First Crusade) is never mentioned, nor are any of its leaders such as Peter the Hermit; the entire first wave is blended with later waves, and the number of 60,000 is thrown about to include all participants in the First Crusade, without qualification, on more than one occasion.

But it's important to remember that, although this is a documentary, it's obviously geared for a mainstream audience. Too many details, explanations and qualifications tend to bore all but the most dedicated student. As a commercial venture, it's impossible for the program to be perfect, and very difficult for it to remain completely objective. Time constraints also play a role in what makes it into the final cut.

Keeping all that in mind, The Crusades: Crescent & the Cross serves as a solid and enjoyable introduction to the subject for the novice. One can hope it engages the viewer enough to make him want to learn more about this subject by opening a good book or visiting a reliable website.

Official Website

More documentaries like this...

The Protestant Revolution

The Story of God

Clash of Worlds

Who Wrote the Bible?

Inside Mecca

Buy the DVD now...

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