LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Think history is something confined to books? Think again.
When the producers of "America the Story of Us" started working on a 12-hour series for the History Channel, they envisaged a "rip-roaring adventure", starting with a meteor crashing through the Appalachian mountains 300 million years ago, and 16 million buffalo roaming the open western plains.
"Sometimes you have the idea that history is a dusty thing in books. This (series) is the opposite. It is energetic and exciting and full of people having amazing moments," executive producer Jane Root told Reuters.
More than a year in the making, "America the Story of Us" debuts on Sunday in what the History Channel says is the first TV project in more than 40 years to cover 400 years of U.S. history.
A very different take on U.S. history is expected later this year from movie director Oliver Stone, who is working on a "Secret History of America" documentary for cable TV channel Showtime.
Stone has said his series will challenge the conventional view of key events in the last 60 years and is "going to be on the edge and challenging."
"America the Story of Us" is decidedly patriotic in tone.
It uses Hollywood-style computer generated imagery (CGI) to recreate events ranging from the British Navy's bombardment of New York Harbor in the Revolutionary War to the high-wire life of workers building New York's first skyscrapers.
"We wanted to get a sense of how exciting and extraordinary America is...The sheer vastness of the U.S. landscape, the magnificence and the possibilities that it offered...and say, this is like a rip-roaring adventure," said Root.
More than 1,600 actors, extras and stuntmen re-create events like the California Gold Rush, the slave trade and the battles of World War Two.
The icing on the cake came when U.S. President Barack Obama -- who made history as the nation's first black president -- agreed to introduce the series by sharing his own reflections on the American story.
"It was made possible by ordinary people who kept their moral compass pointed straight and true when the way seemed treacherous; when the climb seemed steep; and when the future seemed uncertain," Obama said in his filmed introduction.
Obama heads what Root called a "chorus of notable Americans", including astronaut Buzz Aldrin, actress Meryl Streep, musician Sean Combs and generals David H. Petraeus and Tommy Franks, who talk about their hopes and fears for the United States.
"We wanted people who were articulate and passionate but who in lots of ways were talking as ordinary people. We asked them what excites them about America," she said.
The History Channel is offering the series free to every school in the nation. But it's not just aimed at children.
"We believe everyone will enjoy it. It is a courageous heroic adventure...and something that makes you feel really proud to be an American," said Root.
Editing by Christine Kearney