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Case Number 17590: Small Claims Court

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Dogfights: The Complete Series

History Channel // 2006 // 1410 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // October 29th, 2009

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All Rise...

Judge Victor Valdivia is relieved this DVD set has nothing to do with Michael Vick.

Editor's Note

Our reviews of Dogfights: The Complete Season One (published April 24th, 2007) and Dogfights: The Complete Season Two (published June 26th, 2008) are also available.

The Case

Dogfights reaches a decent medium between the historical programming that History used to specialize in and the flashy junk they seem to be increasingly interested in. Its appeal is limited primarily by the subject matter and execution, but at least it does have historical value and content, which is more than can be said for twaddle like Ax Men.

The idea of Dogfights: The Complete Series is simple: reenact famous air battles from throughout the Twentieth century using computer graphics and interviews with surviving pilots. Here are the episodes compiled on ten discs:

Disc One
• "MiG Alley"
During the Korean War, a section of the sky over North Korea was so packed with Communist MiG fighters that it was known as MiG Alley.
• "Air Ambush"
One of the most explosive air battles of the Vietnam War involved a plan to deceive North Vietnamese pilots.

Disc Two
• "Flying Tigers"
One of the most legendary flying groups in World War II, the Flying Tigers, fights the Japanese over China.
• "Guadalcanal"
The battle for Guadalcanal became one of the most important battles of WWII, and the U.S. Air Force was a critical part of it.
• "Hell Over Hanoi"
A brutal air battle during the Vietnam War pitted American pilots against some of the best North Vietnam had to offer.

Disc Three
• "The Zero Killer"
The Japanese Zero was one of the most feared airplanes of WWII, and the U.S. needed to find a way to even the odds.
• "The Last Gunfighter"
How a fierce battle over the skies of Vietnam proved that the era of dogfights was not over.
• "Death of the Japanese Navy"
The Japanese Yamato, the biggest and deadliest battleship ever used during WWII, eventually falls victim to misguided decisions and American relentlessness.

Disc Four
• "Long Odds"
The most exciting air battles involving lopsided contests that didn't necessarily end up as they should have.
• "Dogfights of the Middle East"
During the 1967 Six Days War, the Israeli Air Force proves its mettle over Egyptian MiGs.
• "Hunt for the Bismarck"
The Bismarck is the most feared battleship ever launched by the Nazis in WWII, but when it sinks the beloved British ship the Hood, it becomes the target for the entire British Navy.

Disc Five
• "Kamikaze"
The Japanese embark on a shocking plan during the waning days of WWII: using minimally trained pilots to crash their airplanes into American ships.
• "Jet Vs. Jet"
During the Korean War, the dawn of the jet age led to a new era in dogfights.
• "Thunderbolt"
The story of one of the most famous fighting planes of WWII.
• "Gun Kills of Vietnam"
Though many experts had predicted that jets and missiles would mark the end of dogfights, there was still a need for fighters with guns during the Vietnam War.

Disc Six
• "Desert Aces"
As the Russian MiG-21 becomes the weapon of choice for Egypt and other Arab nations, the Israeli Air Force stakes its pride on matching it.
• "The First Dogfighters"
The stories of the earliest days of dogfights during World War I.
• "Luftwaffe's Deadliest Mission"
As Nazi Germany faces a disastrous defeat, the Luftwaffe decides on a last desperate strategy: crashing planes into U.S. bombers.
• "No Room for Error"
Stories of dogfights that took place at the lowest possible altitudes.

Disc Seven
• "Night Fighters"
Stories of dogfights that took place at night.
• "The Bloodiest Day"
During the Vietnam War, one of the bloodiest and hardest battles fought in the sky also laid the groundwork for future battles.
• "P-51 Mustang"
The story of one of the most famous U.S. airplanes of WWII.

Disc Eight
• "Dogfights of Desert Storm"
During the 1991 Gulf War, U.S. and coalition pilots faced off against Iraqis flying in high-tech Russian and French airplanes.
• "Tuskegee Airmen"
The all-black 332nd fighter group fought in some of the most important battles of WWII.
• "MiG Killers of the Midway"
The U.S. aircraft carrier Midway was home to some of the bravest and most resourceful fighter pilots of the Vietnam War.

Disc Nine
• "Supersonic"
The rise of jet engines would launch a new wave of dogfights fought faster than the speed of sound.
• "Death of the Luftwaffe"
The Luftwaffe stakes all its hopes on a last desperate raid on Allied airfields throughout Europe in 1945.
• "Secret Weapons"
New technological advances in aviation make dogfights look unlike anything before.

Disc Ten
• "Dogfights of the Future"
Possible future technological advances in aviation make it possible to predict what dogfights might look like a decade or more from today.

In theory, Dogfights isn't a bad idea; if anything, this is probably the only way most of these fights could be reenacted, considering that most of them predate the era of television. The animation quality isn't spectacular, looking mostly like a video game, but visually, it's enough to get the point across. The shows also take the time to give plenty of information on the planes involved, including side-by-side comparisons, as well as explaining jargon and tactics used by pilots. The interviews with surviving pilots and historians help add some emotional depth and context. It's especially interesting to see that some pilots seem cocky and proud while others express remorse over what they did.

At the same time, the show, as well-made as it is, isn't in the same league as the best History shows. For one thing, its appeal is way too limited. Because it focuses so extensively on technology, most of the episodes will only appeal to hardcore aviation buffs and gearheads. Too often the show shortchanges the interesting human stories of the pilots and the overall importance of the battles in the wars they occurred and focuses heavily on the minutiae of pilot and airplane techniques and jargon. Also, the computer animation, while visually understandable, isn't really that compelling. It's flat and weightless, so that it often looks like watching someone else play a video game rather than experiencing the actual events. It's not a bad show, but since many of the episodes follow an identical formula, it tends to get repetitive, especially when you watch several in a row.

There are some very good episodes here. The one on the Tuskegee Airmen is the best one, telling a sadly neglected story in a gripping and intelligent way. Even WWII buffs might be surprised to learn just how important the Airmen were to the war effort and how many crucial battles they fought. The ones on the sinking of the Nazi battleship Bismarck and Japanese battleship Yamato are also excellent, written and directed like exciting action movies. The episodes on Kamikazes and Luftwaffe suicide missions are remarkable. Not only are these stories not as well-known, but the show's producers have even managed to unearth surviving German and Japanese pilots who describe how these missions were supposed to work. These are the episodes that represent how good this show can be at its best, but unfortunately, not all of them are this good.

This collection compiles both the Season One and Season Two sets, including all the extras, so if you already have those, you know what you're getting: non-anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer and a Dolby stereo mix, both looking and sounding quite nice, although why the transfer is non-anamorphic is a mystery. The Season One discs come with the original 2006 90-minute pilot, which is entertaining enough but, embarrassingly, focuses rather heavily on disgraced California congressman and former Vietnam War pilot Duke Cunningham. They also include a featurette called "Dogfights: The Planes" (21:18), which will appeal to gearheads. The Season Two set comes with a similar featurette (30:23) that focuses on different planes. The only new bonus exclusive to this set is "Dogfights of the Future." This is by far the least interesting episode here. Earlier episodes had eyewitness and participant testimony that leavened some of the technobabble with recognizably human stories, but this episode is so theoretical and lacking in actual drama that only the hardest hardcore techies could possibly find it interesting. If you already own the two season sets, you'd have to preview this one to see if it's worth shelling out for this collection.

Ultimately, Dogfights: The Complete Series is primarily for hardcore aviation and military buffs. History has, in the past, been able to make military stories accessible to even the most novice viewers, but this series only does so sporadically. If you're a fan of the series and have never bought any of the season sets, then this is the package for you, but otherwise, you'd do better to preview a few episodes before deciding whether or not to buy it.

The Verdict

Not guilty, but not essential either.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 75

Perp Profile

Studio: History Channel
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 1410 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Genres:
• Documentary
• Historical
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• Bonus Episodes
• Featurettes

Accomplices

• IMDb
• Official Site








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