It's likely that the unexpected success last fall of Ken Burns' 12-hour The Civil War helped give PBS the confidence to make a commitment to a seven-part, seven-hour documentary. But having slogged through the first two hours of Columbus and the Age of Discovery, I'm not convinced that this was the one to take a chance on. No matter how complex or intriguing a man Columbus may have been, our interest in his life centers on only one thing his voyage to what would become America. So the endless minutes spent pondering the mariner's childhood and the world in which he lived are at first interesting but soon maddening let's get on with it, I kept thinking.
Discovery is beautifully shot, combining contemporary footage of Columbus' route with an array of 15th-and 16th-century maps and paintings. The commentary, by historian and Columbus scholar Mauricio Obregón, is brisk and to the point. With his gleaming pate, snow-white beard, and muscular burliness, Obregón is yet another potential PBS pinup boy: Joseph Campbell as Mr. Clean. But Obregón isn't around enough, the pace of these hours is deadly, and if the filmmakers, led by executive producer Zvi Dor-Ner, can't convince me after two hours that this philistine needs to know more about Columbus than I remember from high school well, I just don't think their film is going to hypnotize viewers the way The Civil War did. Parts 1 and 2: C