In military flying, what can go wrong does go wrong, and how to blow things up for real.
Part documentary, part historical record keeping, and part voyeurism is the triumvirate of this disc. See many planes crash, and many things blow up, from gun camera and handheld camera footage. This is the first of a ten disc series, each containing two episodes of The Challenge of Flight from the Military Channel.
Most of us guys are closet fighter pilots. Okay, so we didn't strap ourselves into an F-16 and go down bandits, at least most of us didn't, but we know in our hearts of hearts that given the chance we could give Tom Cruise a run for his money to become Top Gun. This series gives us the opportunity to vicariously experience much of this through first-person angles, or for the computer-game challenged, as seen by the pilot.
Other folks might appreciate this disc for the historical content. Much of this Volume I disc is WWII dogfighting and ground strafing runs. Much of the rest of it is footage of crashes, carrier operations, and test flights ranging from pre- WWII to the initial tests of the F-16. I think it is appropriate that this footage be put into a digital medium before the old film stocks completely decay.
This disc is the first two episodes of a 20 episode, 10 disc series. The first is called "Final Approach" and is about 38 minutes of footage, mostly of takeoff and landing problems ranging from carrier wrecks to smashed landing gear or broken tailhooks. The second episode is called "Whispers of Death" and is completely WWII footage, mostly of ground strafing runs and one chapter of air to air dogfighting. It also runs about the same length as the first. There is some commentary in the first chapter, which does help you understand what you are seeing, and the first episode ends with some footage of centrifuge training for G-force endurance by a fighter pilot. The second episode, however, contains no commentary at all, what you see is what you get. The disc is shot in full frame, most of which is black and white, but some color.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Since most of this footage is very old, the video quality is exceedingly poor. It was taken with handheld cameras or shaking gun cameras in black and white, and the film has not survived well to the present day. I wish that it could have been better preserved and captured in digital format long ago, which would have helped keep this as a historical record better able to be seen by future generations. The few scenes in the first episode in color are much better, since they are decades younger, but even there you see some edge enhancement issues.
The sound is certainly better in audibility, but the first episode especially has a score in the background that doesn't begin to fit with the footage being shown. I'd expect much of this music to be on some "Serenity and Relaxation" tape but you're seeing crashes and explosions set to it. The second episode's score is more in keeping with the subject matter, but no commentary at all is a big downside. I wish we could have heard about what planes were fighting and when for example. Most of the video is so poor you'd have to be a pilot yourself to have a clue about just what is happening.
There are no extras at all, except an Easter egg to see the index of the rest of the discs in the series. To be fair to this series, I must say the rest of the discs look like they would be more interesting than the first and the stills from all of them showed they were covering more recent aircraft footage and they were all in color.
Lastly, I had the feeling watching the first episode of being a motorist who has slowed down to watch a car wreck. Obviously many men did not survive the crashes I witnessed, and I felt a bit like a voyeur watching it on screen. Ironically I did not feel that way watching the actual combat footage. It felt more like watching the History Channel with the sound turned off.
Military history buffs would appreciate this disc, and probably be glad to have it in their collection. As a history buff myself, and a veteran of flight simulators on the computer, I am glad to see it. I'm particularly glad the footage is preserved in a more permanent medium for future generations. I hope they send me future discs in the series which look as if they will be more watchable and contemporary.
Focus Film is commended for preserving this historical footage, but could have done more to make this more than a "made for TV offer" by adding commentary and historical context, and by restoring the video as much as possible first. Our pilots of course are commended for preserving our way of life and extending our ideals during WWII.
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