Judge Victor Valdivia is relieved this DVD set has nothing to do with Michael Vick.
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:
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.
Not guilty, but not essential either.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: History Channel
• Bonus Episodes
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