Monday, May 29, 2017

Tesla: Master of Lightning (2000)

Those that get credit aren’t always those that did most of the work.  Thomas Edison is a name synonymous with electricity.  Marconi is associated with radio.  Both of these men owe their fortunes to Nikola Tesla.  Tesla was able to invent a working alternating-current motor.  It was Tesla who first patented a viable radio system.  (Edison did, however, invent the electric meter used for billing.)

If you associate the name Tesla with electric cars only, there’s a reason for that.  As they say, the business of business is business.  Edison was, first and foremost, a businessman.  Tesla was a great inventor, but he seemed to lack the social and business skills to achieve fame and fortune.  He did well for himself, at least for a little while.  He sold patents to Westinghouse and received royalties that could have bankrupted the company.  In the end, he died bankrupt.

I found a documentary on Netflix about Tesla.  I was interested to know more about him; when I saw the 87-minute running time, I thought I had something.  Unfortunately, I was wrong.  The documentary seems to be made for a general audience, which is typical for PBS.  It comes off as boring and long-winded.  This isn’t to say it’s not enjoyable.  It’s just that I found myself bored about halfway through.  It’s one of those documentaries that you keep expecting to end every five minutes.

This isn’t necessarily to sleight PBS.  There does seem to be an audience for this.  The problem was that I was looking for something interesting on someone that I didn’t know much about.  This wasn’t really what I was looking for.  The documentary doesn’t really do justice to Tesla.  Here was a man that was able to come up with great inventions.  The narration was flat and was used to tie together some still and video shots.

There were only two notable scenes, and I’m bringing them up mainly if you’re thinking of letting children watch this.  First, there was an electrocution of an elephant shown.  They do actually show the elephant being electrocuted and subsequently falling over.  They also mention electricity’s use in the death penalty.  This isn’t as graphic, but is still shown.

The documentary does seem to hype Tesla.  He was a great inventor and I’ve heard that his hatred of Edison may have been well earned.  However, it seems like several other people involved were downplayed.  Westinghouse did have a contract with Tesla and it was Tesla’s decision to tear up the contract rather than let Westinghouse go bankrupt.

I feel like a documentary about Tesla could have been done better.  This is one of those situations where reading a book would probably be a better idea, as it can go more in depth with the various aspects of Tesla’s life.  There seems to be so much going on that I wouldn’t be surprised if most of it was being left out.  If I’m going to recommend a documentary to inform people of Tesla, this probably isn’t going to be it.

Netflix seems to have a mixed bag of documentaries.  There are some good ones on the streaming site and some bad ones.  This was one of the ones I wish I had avoided.  I do recommend finding out more about Tesla.  I just don’t recommend renting this documentary.

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