Ancient China From Above

⭐⭐⭐ based on 1 review.

tl;dr: A decent look at some of the architectural achievements of ancient China, with fascinating subjects and a good depth of knowledge, even if a tad over dramatic.




Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

A lazy, Pokémon-filled Sunday has become an ideal time to just kick back and watch a documentary or two, and the three-part mini-series China: From The Air fits that bill perfectly. As with a lot of National Geographic programming, it's a bit over dramatised and often corny, but it's also well made and actually covers some genuinely fascinating aspects of China's early history.

The three episodes focus on the Great Wall, the palace of Xanadu, and the mysterious prehistoric settlement of Shimao, though each episode also touches on relevant additional sites and time periods. The result is surprisingly broad scoped and really quite interesting. Chinese history is an area I'm not particularly familiar with, so the added context and details were fascinating. Everyone knows about the Great Wall, but I hadn't realised that it's built atop multiple previous "Great Walls" going back centuries; I knew next to nothing about Xanadu, least of all that it was built as a sort of cultural melting pot to cement Kublai Khan's claim to be Emperor of China (I think this was the best episode); and whilst the answer as to why a site is suddenly abandoned is pretty much always climate change, I'd never heard of Shimao and the clear parallels with Mesoamerican culture is really cool.

For the most part, VFX is used well, and some of the building reconstructions are really helpful! It's hard to imagine a 10-storey tall circular marquee at an accurate scale 😂 Although, getting the presenter to dramatically flourish what is clearly a mirror in front of their face and then green-screen in the actual effect after is jarring yet hilarious 🤣 Plus, for a "From Above" series, there was a distinct lack of drone use, though this may be a political restriction element. It was clear that only Chinese researchers were allowed to operate drones, and based on the script it was also clear that the production team was being extremely careful to stay on the right side of the Chinese government. Don't expect the kind of drone porn of other series with that title, but as a history documentary, it was pretty interesting.

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