NOVA’s version of the round ark documentary

The documentary on the reconstruction of the Atra-Hasis ark that aired on Channel 4 in the UK and NatGeo is now on PBS. It’s an episode of the long-running NOVA series entitled Secrets of Noah’s Ark.

(I need to just take a moment to express how I have had it, OFFICIALLY, with purported documentaries entitled “The Secrets of” or “The Mystery of” whatever historical person, place or thing. Someday I would like see a realistic title like “Things We Pretty Much Know about …” and “A Thoroughly Researched and Well Documented Exploration of …” I’m annoyed that a program like NOVA resort to that kind of cliché.)

There are some differences in the programs. The plot is the same — Dr. Irving Finkel and the Atra-Hasis tablet in the British Museum to the attempted ancient boat reconstruction in India — and most of the interview segments are the same with a few additional talking heads of the American persuasion. The narration is different. The British original is gone in favor of a deep-voiced American and the narrated segments have been rewritten. There are some slight changes in thematic emphasis and editing order, but nothing major.

For those of you who weren’t able to see the original, check your local PBS station to see when this NOVA episode re-airs or check On Demand. You can always watch the episode on the PBS website. If you’ve already seen the Channel 4 version, you might enjoy comparing the two.


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Comment by E. Gizzard
2015-10-10 06:39:13

Looks like a thoroughly researched treatise on NOVA’s ark — My personal favorites, however, are ‘documentaries’, where overweight archaeologists can be observed drinking beers and doing -well- what they usually do there out in the fields, which is so far fair enough. However, all of a sudden the weather usually turns bad, funds run out, deadlines are not met (or whatever), and the whole thing, as far as the documentary goes, ends without any analysis at all.

Comment by Markus
2015-10-10 10:22:06

Let me just officially express that you’re far from alone in your dislike of that kind of documentary and their titles. Throw in anything that pretends to document a lone expert’s fake quest to “discover” something over the course of a documentary or an episode, as if that whole thing wasn’t scripted beforehand. (That kind of stuff really is more an ego-centric documentary about how oh so awesome that one expert is, and seriously, who needs that?) Also throw in anything catering to American viewing habits, consisting of chapters with predefined breaks for commercials (which of course don’t exist there in other TV markets), particularly when there are recaps and summaries of “what we’ve discovered so far” after the “commercial break” as if the viewer was some kind of idiot who’s forgotten everything he saw 30 seconds ago.

Sorry, I digress. Rant end.

Comment by Annie Delyth
2015-10-10 10:53:33

Some of the Nova segments I’ve seen in recent years have been as bad as The History Channel. My daughter and I like to laugh over the presumptuous presentation of assumptions that in the next segment have become proofs. It hides our disappointment over the loss of truly interesting and insightful documentaries about almost anything. I’m not sure what to think about this one.

Comment by Dean Booth
2015-10-10 11:46:42

Most PBS documentaries these days have an ominous “We’re all going to die!!” theme. Ugh!

Comment by Ann Sharp
2015-10-10 11:52:39

I read the book (gasp!), and just picked up a few minutes of the NOVA documentary, which my brother was watching the other night. Here’s the US Amazon link for it:

Comment by bort
2015-10-10 11:53:27




Comment by Annie Delyth
2015-10-10 12:00:58

Just finished watching the Nova version. Despite the unfortunate title, I think it was better than the UK/NatGeo version, and I do think that there was a significant thematic difference, at least for American audiences. More tightly written, with less emphasis on the boat and more on the literary and cultural meaning of the story, at the end pulling those together in what I thought was a beautiful way.

I thought the additional attention to the evolution of the story added to the interest of the documentary, and a deeper understanding of the cultures it went on to influence.

As for the “deep-voiced American” narrator, really, Livius? I was expecting someone along the lines of a 1950s news announcer, but I suspect that if this person had a British accent, he would simply have sounded, well, English. Not nearly as deep as Owen Bennett Jones, whose voice I am quite enamored of.

Now back to what I am supposed to be doing, which is plying a giant skein of woolen yarn for Spinzilla, which ends tomorrow. :)

Comment by danana
2015-10-11 15:57:33

You know, it’s interesting. We used to watch PBS documentaries all the time and learned a lot from them. Over the years, however, we have been dissatisfied with them, and have watched them less. They are often formulaic, and we sometimes question what is being presented, but we never really thought about it too much, just went on to other things. We also don’t have cable, so no access to other channels. Instead we do a lot of reading…! Anyway, this post has made me think, and realize that the reasons given are probably why we lost interest in this type of show. Exception: Secrets of the Dead about Richard III, with Dominic Smee – that was awesome!!
PS, have never posted before, but love your blog. Thank you!

Comment by Barbara
2015-10-12 11:46:35

This comment is a little tangential, but these remarks touch on a topic much discussed by archeologists (some overweight, many beer-consuming): the quality of archeological tv shows has grown abysmal. PBS says that viewers don’t want to see arch’l documentaries of the type they once featured. National Geographic has shows about ancient aliens (apparently humans were too dim to invent anything without extra terrestrial help) or looters looking for treasure. Everything has to be highly sensationalized to attract viewers. It’s no accident that NatGeo has turned over their programming to Fox.

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