Lionsgate // 2003 // 440 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // July 27th, 2004
War is hell (now in color)!
There seems to be plenty of these vintage-footage driven World War II sets out there. Does this recent offering from Lions Gate raise the bar or merely limbo under it?
So a while ago there was this jerk named Hitler and he waged this pretty insane war with some of his friends, but he eventually got his ass kicked and then he shot himself.
Well, there's more to that, and that's why we have mammoth history sets like this one. WWII: Road to Victory is a 440-minute compendium of some of the war's most pivotal battles that took place on sea, land, and in air. Unlike many sets of this ilk, WWII: Road to Victory tells its story in full-color. This is a good thing and a bad thing, which I will get into later.
Anyway, here is a list of what you'll find on this five-disc set:
May 1941: Hitler sends over 5,000 paratroopers on an enormous assault on Crete.
1940: Disguised German ships wreak havoc on Allied supply boats.
Fall of Berlin
Spring 1945: Air strikes pave the way for the ground assault that will eventually lead to the nail in the Nazi coffin.
1944-1945: Trust me, no Bob Uecker jokes coming. American and Japanese-American troops lay siege to a German stronghold on this mountain in Italy.
Fall of Poland
September 1, 1939: The beginning of WWII as Poland is trounced by Hitler's war machine.
Bombing of Germany
1942-1943: Allied bombing runs commence on strategic German targets.
1940-1941: The German submarine fleet dominates the British Royal Navy
Spring 1941: Allied troops, led by Britain, prepare for a North African-based attack on the might German General Erwin Rommel.
Battle of Stalingrad
1942-1943: A major turning point in the war finds German and Soviet armies clashing in one of the most ferocious battles.
August 19, 1942: Allies raid this French port, but are repelled by the dominant German forces, and decimated.
September 1944: Seeking a conduit from the Netherlands to Germany, the Allies unleash 30,000 paratroopers to seize this bridge.
Battle of Okinawa
April 1945: Japan counters the approaching United States with kamikaze bombers and massive air strikes. The tiny island of Okinawa proves to be the site of some of the bloodiest conflict in the war.
Battle of Anzio
January 1944: Italy is taken by the Allies, but the Axis fight back hard on the road to Rome.
Battle of Sicily
1943: The invasion of this island leads to the eventual defeat of the Italian contingent of the Axis powers.
Battle of Remagen
March 1945: With the capture of this pivotal bridge, the U.S. Army becomes the first-ever military unit to cross the Rhine River.
Bombing of Ploesti
July 1943: Romania receives some special deliveries from a fleet of B-24 bombers.
Liberation of Paris
August 1944: The German presence is evicted from France following the D-Day invasion. ("Oh, and you're welcome!")
October 1942: Led by a formidable British general, the Allies decisively defeat the Axis powers in North Africa.
Fall of the Philippines
1941-1942: Immediately following Pearl Harbor, Japanese warplanes level U.S. military facilities in the Philippines.
February 1944: The U.S. continues its trek across the pacific, toward Japan, with the capture of this small island.
Okay, I'm a junkie for these kinds of World War II sets. I certainly wouldn't classify myself as a full-scale WWII buff, but I've always found this particular chapter in world history most compelling. I've read a few books, scarfed up some Steven Ambrose, and would consider HBO's Band of Brothers as "desert island discs," but expert I'm not.
What I can tell you, is that Lions Gate has put together an exhaustive compilation of excellent battle footage and informative narration, all preceded with bad-ass intros that end with "ON THE BATTLEFREONT!!" This is an expression I'm so enamored with I've started to use it in my day-to-day life; e.g. "I'm going to watch these Saved by the Bell reruns...ON THE BATTLEFRONT!" or "How about a bowl of Frosted Flakes...ON THE BATTLEFRONT!"
A major element of this set that could either invite or repel viewers is the colorization of the footage. I went into the viewing very skeptical. I own a History Channel World War II collection, which retains the original black-and-white war footage, and to some extent, feels more authentic than this new full-color edition.
Honestly, that's as far an impact on the experience goes with the colorizing. Where a movie like Casablanca may just not seem right minus its original black-and-white, I think WWII: Road to Victory adopted the process for practical reasons.
Simply put, it's easier to see what's happening with the new contrasts. You can tell what side the soldiers are on, and landscapes are more detailed. The carnage is that much more jarring in color -- as synthetic as it may be -- which certainly adds to the experience.
All in all, it seems like a deadlock in the authenticity vs. practicality debate.
Overall the presentation is solid, especially with the options of skipping chapters within the separate battle chronicles. However, I'm befuddled at the lack of chronology in the set. I mean, the third episode is the friggin' Fall of Berlin! It would have been nice to have this otherwise nifty set track the war from the beginning to end.
The sound is strong enough for a stereo mix, and manages the frenzied gunfire and explosions effectively.
There are no extras on the set.
One more thing. The set is damn cheap. I've seen it for as low as $20, and for 440 minutes of WW II action, that comes out to less than a nickel a minute!
A good value for you history fans out there, though the faux-color may keep buyers at bay.
The court digs the set (as in "dig a foxhole and take cover!!!") Court adjourned.
Review content copyright © 2004 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 440 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated