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The gift of thought



With so many big-name movies like The Dark Knight Rises, The Bourne Legacy and Ted being released on DVD just in time for the holidays, it's easy to forget that companies like A&E and History are also dropping some great titles that educate as well as entertain. With that in mind, here's a little rundown from which all of us hopefully can learn.

Let's start at the beginning — literally. The exhaustive 12-hour series Mankind: The Story of All of Us (History, $34.95) takes viewers from the very roots of civilization to the discovery of America, all without the stodginess of having to read some stupid history book, and in beautiful high-definition, no less — the way God surely wanted it.

If the history of humanity is a little too much for you, start small and focus on two heroes, past and present. Shaka Zulu (A&E, $39.98) is the epic 10-part miniseries, beautifully restored, about the legendary 19th-century African king who stood in defiance of the British colonists. More modern is Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (Sundance Selects, $24.98), a stirring documentary that focuses on the Chinese artist who has defiantly taken on the government with his unapologetically outspoken political works.

But maybe those topics are a bit too "heavy" for a typical holiday hoedown. When the out-of-this-world aspects of information are more a gift-getter's style, blast off with the unidentified flying double-shot of UFO Archives (History, $44.98) and Ancient Aliens (History, $99.95). Clocking in at six discs, UFO Archives is everything you could possibly ever want to know about America's history with visitors from other worlds: From Roswell to the Majestic 12, no space-rock is left unturned.

The even-more-packed Ancient Aliens runs a brisk 12 discs and thoroughly covers mankind's tumultuous history with extraterrestrials, and how they kindly helped build the world in its infancy and beyond. Try to present that in your next history report, Junior!

A&E has also released a trio of its best reality shows that, while maybe not educational historically, will definitely teach viewers a thing or two sociologically. Duck Dynasty: Season One ($19.98) is the story of the Robertsons and their duck-calling empire — yes, one can have one — and is fraught with constant bayou drama.

Moving from the Bayou to the Big Apple, Shipping Wars: Season One ($19.98) focuses on the men and women who, um, ship things on trucks coast-to-coast and under deadline. Finally, the Lone Star spin-off Storage Wars Texas: Season One ($19.98) presents bidders vying for those very things that were shipped and forgotten about, all in Stetsons and boots. If anything, you'll learn just how much you're not a fan of Texas.

Of course if none of those inspire, you can always take a course with buxom instructor Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. In Elvira's Movie Macabre: Mega Movie Marathon (Entertainment One, $34.98), the beloved, Colorado Springs-reared horror hostess guides lecherous eyes through 12 of the worst movies known to modern man, including The Werewolf of Washington, The Brain That Wouldn't Die and Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter. Sure, you might not learn much from these, but then again, there's surely a lesson to be gleaned in how not to make a movie, no?

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