Criticism of The History of Mankind – slightly shortened: The unofficial “Sketch History” movie asks: Who is the Neanderthal here now?

Director Erik Haffner and author Roland Slawik have already worked together on the ZDF comedy “Sketch History”, which was broadcast between 2015 and 2019. There are also a bunch of actors, some of whom even take up the same characters from the multi-award-winning revue show, albeit renamed for copyright reasons. With such an intersection, “Sketch History – The Movie” would actually have been a suitable title. But ZDF has nothing to do with the movie anymore…

… and “The history of mankind – slightly abridged‘ sounds a lot nicer, even if you literally provoke the comparison with ‘The Crazy Story of the World’. In fact, the German answer to Mel Brooks’ cult comedy from 1981 draws the short straw in the duel of alternative histories: Despite a handful of ambiguous punchlines, many of the historical sketch numbers that are often terribly obvious are simply rolled out too long – and the ever-present pedagogical pointing finger proves to be the case also as quite a killjoy.

dr Gerhard Friedle (Christoph Maria Herbst) shoots a golden record into space – so that the aliens get the “right” impression of us humans.

On September 5, 1977, Voyager 1 starts to explore the outer planetary system. Also on board is a gold disc that the aliens are supposed to listen to if they happen to bump into the spacecraft floating around in space. In addition to words of welcome in 60 languages, it also contains a short history of mankind, which NASA engineer Dr. Gerhard Friedle (Christoph Maria Herbst) and his team put together.

And indeed: In the year 2050, three slimy tentacle creatures in their spaceship are staring at a monitor to read the collected stories about the downfall of the Neanderthals, the crucifixion of the constantly cursing Jesus, the quota system for the Vikings, the invention of the guillotine (in the musical version), the planning of the Stauffenberg assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler and a fart marathon on board a submarine. But does that really make them not just blow up planet Earth like in a Roland Emmerich disaster blockbuster?

This time, the “capable” Berlin craftsmen are from the Konopke company (and not from the Kasallek company, as in the ZDF series).

One of the first episodes is also the best, because it closes with exactly the kind of ambiguous punchline that is sorely missed for much of the film: The are standing in a stone age cave Homo sapiens and the Homo Neanderthalensis opposite to discuss once and for all for which species it was now. It also plays a role whether one should rather bury one’s feces, as 97 percent of all shamans recommend, for which they are directly shouted down as lying shamans by the violent club-swingers of the little-enlightened faction. With the twist, which is not necessarily surprising, but still hits the mark, it is also clear what “The History of Mankind – Slightly Abridged” is at least at its core – namely a reckoning …

… and there is a lot to settle accounts in the often not at all creditable history of mankind. But then only the obvious and simple (and therefore much more successful) goals are sought: Religion is stupid, climate protection is important, the status quo and political correctness are only moderately shaken, but at least the fart concert at the bottom of the seabed packs a punch (and that last compliment isn’t meant to be as “poisonous” as it might sound, as the submarine sequence is actually one of the most amusing due to its unconditionally flatulent consequence).

For the good cause

At least the team around Erik Haffner (“CIS: Chaos in Special Operations”), who ten years ago threw in potentially homophobic and racist gags in the ProSieben Funny Movie “Rookie – Fast Platt”, is clearly on the morally safe side this time . But if you stand up for a good cause as a comedian, then you need all the more bite to continue to be funny and not just instructive. The best examples of this are John Stewart (ten years ago in “The Daily Show”), John Oliver (currently in “Last Week Tonight”) and, with slight drawbacks, the German version “heute-show” with Oliver Welke.

But although it shouldn’t be that difficult to really judge humanity, “The History of Mankind – Slightly Abridged” rarely ventures into those bitterly angry border areas where laughter might get stuck in your throat. Even Max Gierman as Klaus Kinski as Jesus, who lets himself be crucified with rusty nails to satisfy his theatrical egomania, will hardly provoke anyone. And where exactly the gag is when the film simply turns the failed Staufenberg assassination attempt into a complete success is not entirely clear either – the first point is when a supposed conspirator suddenly turns out to be a member of the planning commission for Hitler’s surprise Birthday party turned out to be really successful. It’s a more common problem that individual skits just keep going after they’ve peaked.

If it’s fart humor, please do it correctly! In that regard, you can’t blame the film at all.

On the other hand, what is quite entertaining are some direct references to recurring elements of the television series, which also work in the cinema, although the additional possibilities of the big screen are rarely exploited apart from some drone shots: Horst (Alexander Schubert) and Jürgen (Holger Stockhaus) was commissioned this time by Kasallek Konopke to build the Great Wall of China – Far Eastern gigantism meets Berlin fussiness. And when Bastian Pastewka throws himself into a Dadaistic duel as Al Capone, then the “Wochenshow” cult star naturally masters this type of language-based anti-comedy in his sleep, even if nothing new comes up.

It’s just a pity that “The History of Mankind – Slightly Shortened” ends at a particularly low point (before the credits sing a rather snappy song about the soon to be inevitable demise of mankind): neither the filmmakers nor the actress Jeanette Hain find an approach to how one could behave towards Greta Thunberg, who will then be 47 in 2050 – and so, apart from a slightly slanted posture, nothing at all happens comedic…

Conclusion: It could have been shortened a little more (and bit more bitingly!).