Cable News Network's latest documentary mega-series,the 10-hour Millennium, moves along surprisingly quickly with a deft blend offact-filled narration, computer graphics and dramatic re-enactments.
CNN's Cold War, roughly twice as long, seemsleisurely by comparison, since Millennium must condense highlights from eachcentury into an hour.
Each hour, in turn, is divided magazinelike into fivevignettes focusing on key moments or people affecting a culture's development --patterned after Felipe Fernandez-Armesto's book Millennium: A History of Our LastThousand Years.
Cold War was more gripping, since it dealt withdramatic East/West conflicts, whereas Millennium tries for a broader perspective,as seen in each hour's title; the 15th century, for one, is labeled"The Century of the Sail."
With less archival material to work with, Millenniumis free to rely on livelier computer-generated images -- including a spectacular openingmontage of the Great Wall of China, Christopher Columbus' three ships and the TajMahal -- and superb photography.
Some hours -- indeed, some vignettes -- are moreinteresting than others. But overall, not only the photography and graphics, but theediting, writing and actor Ben Kingsley's narration deserve kudos, as do theproject's co-executive producers, Pat Mitchell and Jeremy Isaacs.
Unfortunately, the first two hours are the least arresting.But even these are made more palatable by the use of computer graphics to recreate NativeAmericans' 800-room Pueblo Bonito, a 12th century complex in New Mexico.
The best pieces include one in the third episode on GenghisKhan and another on his grandson, Kublai Khan, who ruled China until his 140,000-personnavy was destroyed by a typhoon while en route to Japan.
The fourth hour opens with a bleak look at "the BlackDeath [that] threatened civilization with extinction" in Europe, Asia and NorthAfrica, and it then segues to flourishing civilizations in West Africa and Java, whichwere unaffected by the plague.
The finale, on the 20th century, touches on theWild West, World War II, communism, the communications revolution, the global populationexplosion and the immigration influx in the United States, all too briefly.
That hour's most striking visual sequence usescomputer-created skylines to illustrate the economic growth of Pacific Rim nations.
CNN's Millennium will run Sundays at 10 p.m.,starting this past Sunday (Oct. 10) and continuing through Dec. 12.