We found Judge David Gutierrez's review of this documentary set washed up on a French beach.
"You read the stories, see the films, there's one thing you can't get. And that's the stench of war; the aftermath of a battle. That burned, stinking smell of rubber, scorched metal, and the decaying bodies of animals and men all mixed up together. It's that smell, that once you've smelled it, you never, ever forget it."—Wally Parr, 6th Airborne Division, England
D-Day: The Total Story is a balanced account of the people and events leading up to what is known historically as "The Longest Day."
Facts of the Case
For over five hours, this History Channel documentary brings together scholars and veterans to explain the history of what's universally considered one of the most important battles in military history and to paint a broader picture of the life of a soldier. The documentary is presented in a two-disc boxed set.
Disc One features three episodes completely devoted to the D-Day story hosted by Gerald McRaney (Major Dad), as well as a documentary on President Eisenhower.
"D-Day: The Total Story"—The major events leading up to the battle at Normandy are documented here.
"H-Hour"—We see and hear what exactly happened on D-Day—everything that was supposed to happen and everything that went badly wrong
"Breakout"—The post-D-Day story explaining what the Allied forces did after their costly battle.
"Eisenhower: Supreme Commander in Chief"—From his earliest days to his days as President, this Biography documentary takes us into the world of "Ike."
Disc Two's documentaries tackle the broader spectrum of warfare during War World II and beyond.
"The True Story of the Screaming Eagles: 101st Airborne"—A complete telling of their origins and the crucial role the 101st played at Normandy.
"Dear Home: Letters From World War II"—Actual correspondence from the battlefield as read by various actors.
"Battle Stations: Sherman Assault"—Everything you wanted to know about the Sherman tank but were afraid to ask.
I can't say enough about how incredible this set is. For the purposes of this review, I will discuss each section of the set. All episodes are composed of archived footage, interviews and modern video footage.
"D-Day: The Total Story" (Episodes 1-3)
This documentary series pulled no punches. I feared a flag-waving, "we're number one" propaganda piece all about how effective the Allied forces were. Luckily, my fears were completely unjustified. First off, not only are we treated to first person accounts by American, English, and French soldiers and nurses, but by ex-Nazis. Never before had I heard a German soldier's version of events. Note that both Allied and Nazi forces react similarly to the devastation and hell around them. The documentary portrays both sides as adolescents doing what was at asked of them by their government. Stephen Ambrose fans will be happy to see him contributing historical facts and anecdotes. (For those not familiar with his writing, Ambrose was a noted expert on World War II.)
I had no idea how wrong everything had gone at Normandy. Once again, I have to hand it to a dwindling generation that saved the planet almost sixty years ago. The greatest strength of this documentary is its humanity. It shows us all the pain, folly, perseverance, blind luck, and the emotional rollercoaster that so many of the veterans experienced. As Wally Parr stated above, we can't go back there with them, but this series brings us awfully close.
"Eisenhower: Supreme Commander in Chief"
This documentary presents a well-crafted history of one of our most famous presidents and one of the most crucial military figures in World War II.
"The True Story of the Screaming Eagles: 101st Airborne"
Learn how the 101st got their name, how difficult it would be to join their ranks, how disastrously their Normandy mission began, and their role in Vietnam. I loved this segment so much I watched it twice.
"Dear Home: Letters from World War II"
"Letters" recalls moving correspondence from some very dark days. I actually got a little choked up at one point. The actors reading the letters aloud were average, but the true strength of this documentary is the letters themselves. I think we often forget how lonely and hopeless war can seem to a teenager from the Heartland.
"Battle Stations: Sherman Assault"
This short documentary taught me everything about the Sherman tank short of how to build one. I'm always drawn into documentaries about military hardware, and this one delivered.
The overall set is presented in Dolby Digital sound and is formatted for television. Despite the age of some footage, the video presentation was average for a documentary. Some of the weaker video was the recently recorded interviews. They weren't terribly presented, but at times the reds would bleed through.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The DVD lacked any subtitles and can't be viewed in anything but English. What if I wanted my German friends to see it? Honestly, New Video is doing this DVD set a disservice by not giving it any multi-language features. It's odd and disappointing that such an educational program isn't available in more languages.
D-Day: The Total Story is a must for anyone. It's presented well and never falters. It's definitely one of the best accounts of war I've seen.
Released on their own recognizance, New Video is sentenced to bring us more DVDs.
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