Monarex // 2002 // 110 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Erin Boland (Retired) // November 22nd, 2003
"To be a soldier means to be courageous under all circumstances."
World War II: Attack Without Warning is divided into two separate parts. The first:,Hitler: Savior or Satan, focuses on Adolph Hitler's rise to power and the subsequent war in Europe. The second part, Massacres Under the Rising Sun, focuses on the wars Japan fought with China, Manchuria, and Russia before the attack on Pearl Harbor. The DVD also contains a gallery of photos from Hitler's regime.
Hitler: Savior or Satan
This documentary tells the story of Hitler's early adulthood, service in World War I, and his rise and regime in German politics in about an hour. Anyone with an avid interest in World War II history may find this documentary interesting, but may not necessarily learn any new information. To someone with less of a background in World War II, this is an excellent introduction to Hitler's regime, complete with a commentary on the political lessons this period in history should teach us.
The documentary starts well, setting up Hitler's early life. We see destitute postwar Germany in the roaring 1920s. We also see how easy it is for Hitler to set himself up as a fairy-tale white knight figure, instituting self-help programs, labor programs, and soup kitchens as the democratic government fails to better life for its citizens. The film then glosses over the Rhineland re-occupation and the "War of Flowers" for Sudeten land. It then turns to an introduction of the axis party, the blitzkrieg, the war with England, the campaign in northern Africa, the assassination attempts, and Hitler's eventual death. The documentary mentions all of the important events in Hitler's regime and places them in perspective to look at the regime as a whole. But it spends more time discussing the psychology behind Hitler and the SS: their egoism, megalomania, insecurities, interest in Satanism, and possible homosexual tendencies than the historical ramifications of many of the important events. The film does leave us with the concise thought though -- the people bear the responsibility. The quest for guidance and leadership and the promise of stability for a destitute society will cultivate a monster if he promises salvation.
This is not the best World War II documentary I have seen. It presents almost ten years of complex history in an hour. It does, however, do a decent job of placing the regime of a monster into a historical perspective with the lessons to be learned from it. This documentary was made up almost entirely of original pictures and footage. The transfer is as good as any footage I have seen from that time frame: images are for the most part sharp though there is noticeable graininess present. The sound quality is excellent. The accompanying voiceover was clear and original footage in German was well subtitled.
Massacres Under the Rising Sun
In contrast to the first documentary, which covered a long regime, this documentary takes a closer look at the Japanese culture at war. The film concentrates on the Japanese war in China and Manchuria before the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. (The documentary actually ends with the Russian attack in 1939 with no commentary whatsoever on the years in between.) The film starts off by explaining the Japanese propaganda that the acquisition of Manchuria and then China were necessary for the survival of Japan. It then discusses the training of the Japanese soldiers: their inhuman degradation and the insanity of their military culture and follows that by glossing over the samurai tradition that surrender was disgraceful and dishonorable. Then the history pretty much ended. The film was only partially composed of archival footage; most of it was color movie segments that appear to have been shot with conflicting goals in mind. The last 15 minutes are almost entirely filled with battle sequences and lack any relevant commentary. This particular documentary wants to tell us that in order to analyze war, one must analyze the minds of the men fighting the war, but it fails to deliver a cohesive message. Yes, the narrator says this at the end of the film, but the rest of the film does not cohesively support his statement. Though the narrator does attempt to show us the minds of the Japanese and provide some insight into their military culture, it is not clear that this is always the idea communicated as the narrator intended.
This documentary contained some original footage, but was predominantly composed of color movies that were made after the fact. The transfer in both cases was good, however since color movies were used, the documentary could have been improved immensely had more modern footage been created. The sound on the film was of good quality. The narration was clear, and where it was required, the film was well subtitled.
As a whole, I would not recommend World War II: Attack Without Warning to anyone with an avid interest in World War II history. There are much better documentaries available that cover less subject matter in much better detail in a similar amount of time. The DVD is a much better introduction to World War II history for a more casual and broader audience.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Gallery of Hitler Photos