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Journey of Man
Journey of Man
Actor: Dr. Spencer Wells
Director: Clive Maltby
Genres: Television, Documentary
NR     2003     2hr 0min

Studio: Pbs Release Date: 05/05/2009 Run time: 120 minutes


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Movie Details

Actor: Dr. Spencer Wells
Director: Clive Maltby
Genres: Television, Documentary
Sub-Genres: Television, Documentary
Studio: Pbs (Direct)
Format: DVD - Color
DVD Release Date: 08/05/2003
Release Year: 2003
Run Time: 2hr 0min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 5
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

Amazing story of our human history using DNA
W. Chen | Medellin, Colombia | 09/02/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I first saw this when it premiered on PBS while I was at the beginning of my world travels in January 2003. One of the reasons I quit my job to go traveling was to satisfy my desire to know the truth about religion and spirituality. I traveled throughout Asia (As far West as India & Nepal), Australia, South America, and parts of Arabia. Africa awaits.

The show on PBS couldn't have been more timely as I watched it in a hotel room while in Arizona. (Started with a cross country USA drive) I have read/studied & watched numerous videos and books on evolution, different religions, etc... at least from a scientific standpoint this video in one stroke puts MANY (Not all) of the claims of various religions / belief systems into the category of "Comfort stories." THAT IS - if you believe in the science.

I found quite interesting the reaction of some of the people when confronted with these new discoveries. Old habits/beliefs die hard as evidenced by world events today and in the past century of rapid scientific thought and change on our world. Granted, the host Spencer Wells could have presented some of his findings in a slightly more "soothing" manner to some of the target groups. But, he recognized this early on I think and modified his approach. His enthusiasm and confidence are infectious and make watching the video fun - even after I watched it again on DVD since I have returned from traveling.

This show is so compelling and complete in its coverage of how we/man evolved and traveled out of Africa. Dr. Wells travels to Namibia, Kazakhstan, Siberia, Arizona, Brazil, North Australia, and South India among other places. He incorporates interviews with other scientists to support his work - such as linguists. While I didn't use DNA analysis in my travels to answer my questions, my insights into human psychology and observation of behavior only complemented what is in the video.

This is one of those videos (BBC's Blue Planet is another one) that I place in a special category of videos that should be mass distributed for free to every household possible around the world.

I also *HIGHLY* recommend the Shape of Life 4-DVD set, the logical prequel to the Journey of Man. For a broader picture of how we fit in our world - I also *HIGHLY* recommend National Geographic's Strange Days on Planet Earth 2-DVD set."
The Best Documentary Ever
Thomas M. Seay | Palo Alto, California USA | 04/27/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"One is rightfully suspicious of bromides about how we are all "one" and that we are all brothers and sisters. However, at least twice in my life I have witnessed something that justifies these notions: one, the picture of the earth from the Apollo spaceship and, two, the documentary "Journey of Man".

The film-maker probably did not intend to make a sociological/political statement but the film certainly destroys racialist arguments about essential differences between human races. We are all descendants of Africa and, it would seem, all distant cousins of one another, even if that fact, highlighted by this film, does not erase political, social and cultural differences. If everyone saw this film, perhaps (and only perhaps) there would be less endorsements of war. Maybe that's a bit too hipeful, since wars are almost always these days presented as humanitarian wars by those who benefit from them.

One must marvel at the courage of our ancestors to undertake the great trek out of Africa. It's easy to understand going to Australia, but why did some migrate to the coldest regions of Siberia? That's the question I have."
Incredible Journey
Rosemary T. Desiervi | San Jose, CA | 06/06/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"If you read -- and believe -- what "jrmcgrail" wrote about this video (below), you will lose a wonderful opportunity to go on one of the most incredible science-based journeys on the planet that clearly, succinctly and simply shows us the origin of the human race. This video is a must-have for anyone who has ever asked the question, "where did we come from." The joy, beyond the enlightening science facts, is taking the journey with Dr. Wells to the far reaches of the earth, to meet and talk with the human beings whose genes gave birth to ours; to every race on the planet. It's a great exploration into our origins, and shows us that we are all one big family after all. Kudos to Dr. Wells for getting this project completed and for this captivating and well-done story."
Padded but beautifully photographed & occasionally compellin
abt1950 | usa | 03/26/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Spencer Wells is the current star of genetic evolutionary studies. As a student of Luca Cavalli-Sforza, he followed his mentor's lead in tracing the history of human migrations by means of the statistical analysis of genetic variation. Rather than using mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited only from the mother's line, as previous researches have done, Wells studies changes on the Y chromosome, which every male inherits directly from his father and his father before him. By comparing the Y chromosomes of men in many distant populations, he and his colleagues have put together a "family tree," that delineates when different branches of the human family diverged from each other and where they went geographically. He is currently the moving force behind the National Geographic Society's Genographic Project, the successor to the controversial Human Genomic Diversity Project of a few years back.

This particular documentary was originally broadcast on PBS several years ago. In it, Wells physically recreates the journey of modern Homo sapiens out of Africa approximately 60,000 years ago and retraces the paths taken various groups into India, Australia, Central Asia, Siberia, Europe, and America. Many of these sequences are fascinating--Wells not only provides the science, but also gives glimpses of the landscapes, the people today, and the challenges faced by their ancestors. His ultimate conclusion, which will be familiar to any student of anthropology, is that the genetic differences between racial groups are far less important than the similarities. In other words, we are all one unified, genetic family. Race may be a powerful concept culturally, but biologically Wells demonstrates that it's fatally flawed..

So, why have I given this DVD only 4 instead of 5 stars? It's lushly done and visually stunning. However, it has some flaws. One of these is flabby editing. Too much screen time is given to Well's off-topic ramblings. For instance, there is a sequence of several minutes wasted on Wells while he waits in a bleak Siberian hotel room to get permission from Russian authorities to visit the Chuckchi. At times, "The Journey of Man" has the feeling of a documentary that was too long for one time slot and not long enough for the next size up. Also, the unremitting focus on Wells himself does not give adequate credit to his many scientific collaborators.

But these are stylistic quibbles. I also have some reservations about the theoretical underpinnings on which the documentary rests. First and foremost is Well's adoption of what seems to be an extreme "Out of Africa" ("Replacement") version of the origins of modern Homo sapiens. According to this view, homo sapiens as a species evolved in Africa; moved out into the Middle East, Asia, and Europe; and replaced existing populations of Homo erectus and Neanderthals without interbreeding. These older populations would have contributed nothing to the modern human gene pool. This theory is in contrast to the "Multiregional Theory," which suggests a parallel evolution of local populations into modern homo sapiens and a lot of interbreeding with neighboring populations as well as with the African newcomers. The former explains the genetic data better, but the latter fits the fossil evidence. The "Out of Africa" theory has been dominant for a number of years, but recently a modified "Out of Africa" version which allows for some interbreeding by local populations is gaining ground. This probably wouldn't have affected any of Wells' conclusions, but the documentary would have been less one-sided had he at least mentioned both theories.

Wells also relies on a controversial theory of cognitive development that suggests that early homo sapiens may have looked like modern humans by around 100,000 years ago, but that brain development lagged far behind. According to this theory, somewhere around 60,000 years ago, there was a "great cognitive leap forward," during which the human brain became essentially modern. This qualitative leap accounts for the rapid expansion of artifacts of cultural significance that appear in the archaeological record after that date. The new abilities of our ancestors' brains allowed them think in symbolic terms and to behave in increasingly complex ways. But not all paleoanthropolgists take this view, and every discovery of an earlier artifact that can be associated with symbolic behavior undermines the theory.

Nonetheless, when all is said and done, this is a useful documentary. I show segments of it to my Physical Anthropology class every year, and the responses are uniformly positive. I'll give this one a qualified recommendation.