Sunday, April 7, 2013

Perfect Storms Is Almost Perfect

Just a few years ago a series as ambitious as History TV's new offering Perfect Storms would have been impossible to make.
It literally requires a cast of thousands in each episodes and special effects that sees the complete destruction of major cities.
But the wonders of CGI has changed all that.
You can judge for yourself with Episode One's thorough look at the 1900 hurricane that virtually leveled the Texas town of Galveston.
It premieres on History Monday April 8 at 9 p.m.
Today all we can see of the destruction are a handful of still photographs but here everything comes magically to life in this brilliant recreation.
It all begins with the city's official weather specialist down at the beach eight hours before the tornado hit.
He had been warned by telephone a gigantic storm was somewhere in the Gulf. Before satellite imaging all he could do was survey the ocean swells and then he made the mistake of thinking the hurricane would not make shore near the city.
Here was a city on the brink of greatness --only New York boasted more millionaires. But after September 8 Galveston was in ruins --almost 10,000 people were dead and the city was razed. It would never regain its former pre-eminence.
I've also caught Episode 4 (Monday April 29) that looks at the disappearance of one of Rome's finest legions in the dark forests of Germany in 9 AD. The Romans are trapped by a massive thunderstorm and betrayed from within by a German warrior they thought was one of their own.
I find this episode too speculative. But fascinating details of Rome's stunning defeat are presented. The severed head of great Roman general Varus was shipped back to Rome in a box. And Rome's expansion stopped dead in its tracks.
The best one I've seen is Episode 5 called "God's Wrath" looking at the earthquake and tsunami that hit Libson on All Saints Day 1755. Ironically the city was devastated at the height of the Inquisition. We know details from an English traveler Daniel Braddock who kept a detailed diary and magically survived..
Because it was a feast day many citizens were in the great old stone churches which crumpled under the impact of the earthquake. Fires were started that raged through the city and one burial site recently opened shows some of the dead literally perished when their brains expanded from the intense heat and cracked open their skulls. Temperatures were over 1,000 degrees celsius.
The shots of the city on fire are brilliantly done and the wealth of Lisbon at the time --gold from Brazil and riches from the slave trade--could never again be equalled. This one is filled with rich irony.
The real series stars  are art director Jack Babcock, production designer Andrew Berry and producers Steve Gamester, Michael Kot and Betty Orr.
It's a Canadian production from Entertainment One and Shaw Media. Put it down as the "must see" entry of the TV season.
MY RATING: ****.

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