History Channel // 2008 // 1050 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // November 7th, 2010
Experience the 360° view of World War II battles.
World War II 360° is a repackaging of two previously-released History Channel shows: Battle 360° and Patton 360°. The discs for each show are presented in separate keepcases, housed in a flimsy cardboard World War II 360° slipcover. If you already own Battle 360° or Patton 360° on Blu-ray, you can move along; there's nothing to see here.
Battle 360° made its television premiere in early 2008 and quickly became one of the History Channel's most success programs. The 10-episode series examines the World War II exploits of America's most famous aircraft carrier, the USS Enterprise. The series' first episode, "Call to Duty," covers the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Enterprise's actions in the Marshall Islands, and Doolittle's Raid. The finale, "The Empire's Last Stand," looks at action on Iwo Jima and Okinawa, as well as Japan's surrender. In between, we're treated to intense and dramatic sea battles in the Solomon Islands, the Battle of Santa Cruz, the Gilbert Islands, Operation Hailstone, the Battle of the Philippine Sea, and the Battle of Leyte Gulf. The crews of Enterprise and the other ships in her carrier group experience stunning victories and crushing defeats as they struggle to gain tactical and strategic advantage over a Japanese fleet that is initially larger (about twice the size of the American fleet, in fact), better equipped, and more experienced. Battle 360° buries viewers in facts about military hardware, strategy, and history, but it is the stories of the resilient and determined sailors and pilots aboard Enterprise that leave a lasting mark.
The first three discs of this Blu-ray set contain the 10-episodes of Battle 360°:
* "Call to Duty"
* "Vengeance at Midway"
* "Jaws of the Enemy"
* "Bloody Santa Cruz"
* "Enterprise vs. Japan"
* "The Grey Ghost"
* "Hammer of Hell"
* "D-Day in the Pacific"
* "Battle of Leyte Gulf"
* "The Empire's Last Stand"
After the success of Battle 360°, Flight 33 Productions delivered Patton 360° for airing on the History Channel in the spring of 2009. As the title indicates, the follow-up series examines General George S. Patton's brash and aggressive campaigns in the European theater of World War II. The series' first episode, "Blood & Guts," involves Patton's clash with Nazi-sympathizing French soldiers in North Africa. Its tenth and final episode, "Crushing the Third Reich," tells of Patton's push to beat British armored divisions to the Rhine, his liberation of the Orhdruf death camp, and the end of the European war. In between, the series immerses us in Patton's clashes with Rommel at Kasserine Pass and El Guettar; his daring offensives in Sicily, Messina, and France; his diversionary tactics during the build-up to D-Day; and his push to shatter German lines and help put an end to the Battle of the Bulge. In addition to the show's focus on the strategy and tactics of these famous battles, it also delves into Patton's personal problems: his difficultly playing the political games required of a general, and his punishment for slapping two soldiers in a fit of pique. As with its predecessor Patton 360° is a mix of cold, hard facts about military hardware, strategy, and tactics, and the engaging stories of real men faced with harrowing circumstances.
All ten episodes of Patton 360° are housed on the set's last two discs:
* "Blood & Guts"
* "Rommel's Last Stand"
* "Baptism of Blood"
* "Rogue General"
* "American Blitzkrieg"
* "Leading the Charge"
* "On Hitler's Doorstep"
* "Siege Warfare"
* "Battle of the Bulge"
* "Crushing the Third Reich"
Battle 360° and Patton 360° may be about the 1940s, but they're shows made for the 2000s. The series unfurl with a combination of talking head interviews with World War II veterans, historians, and military experts; archival footage; animated maps; graphical stats sheets on a variety of Allied and Axis weapons and hardware; and, most notably, detailed 3D computer animated reproductions of key moments from the various battles. It's a dynamic and fast-paced way of delivering a ton of information to a post-literate society. If this kind of hyper-edited program normally turns you off, don't let it chase you away from these shows. The series may have high-sheen production values, but that doesn't mean that they're free of substance. They aren't the sort of history-free shows about the lives of ice road truckers or speculation that aliens may have built the pyramids that too often litter the History Channel's line-up. Battle 360° and Patton 360° offer genuine (and mostly accurate) history. Their producers wisely realized that computer technology wasn't necessary to imbue these World War II adventures with drama, but it could be useful in providing us a fresh perspective on those adventures by combining oral history, statistics, analysis, and good old fashioned combat footage into programs that provide a visceral as well as an intellectual punch. Viewers knowing nothing about World War II will ride a wave of compelling drama across the series' 20 episodes, and emerge at the end having learned much about the catalysts and events of the European and Paciflic conflicts. World War II 360° isn't merely a collection of historical facts. It's also a collection of personal stories set against epic human events about which it is easy to become emotionally involved.
Given the History Channel's penchant for releasing DVDs with non-anamorphic widescreen transfers, there's really no comparison between the image on these Blu-rays and the previously released DVDs. The 1080p/AVC transfer presents the shows in their original 16:9 aspect ratio. The modern interview footage and computer animation is nearly perfect, while the archive footage (trimmed to fit the widescreen presentation) is limited by its vintage as one would expect. The lone audio option is a DTS-HD master audio stereo mix that is bright and clean, though perhaps not as robust as it could be during the battle sequences.
The only supplement is a 20-minute reel of bonus scenes for Battle 360° (housed on Disc Three).
World War II 360 is as slickly produced and dramatically compelling as it is educational. Considering the shoddy non-anamorphic transfer on the old Battle 360° and Patton 360° DVDs, this Blu-ray set is the way to go.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: History Channel
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
Running Time: 1050 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus Scenes
* IMDb: Battle 360
* IMDb: Patton 360