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Case Number 11262

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Dogfights: The Complete Season One

History Channel // 2006 // 517 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // April 24th, 2007

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All Rise...

Judge David Johnson is pleased to report that no dogs were hurt in the making of this show. Too bad he can't say the same for the Luftwaffe. Those guys had it coming.

Editor's Note

Our reviews of Dogfights: The Complete Season Two (published June 26th, 2008) and Dogfights: The Complete Series (published October 29th, 2009) are also available.

The Charge

These guys's mouths write checks that their bodies do cash.

Opening Statement

Courtesy of the History Channel comes one of the most kick-ass, red-blooded, all-American history shows ever. Dogfights will pin you to the sofa with its radical G's of coolness.

Facts of the Case

Here's how the show works. The producers have tracked down the participants in some of the dopest air combats in history, interviews them, and through some fine-looking computer generated imagery, recreated the aerial encounters. From the skirmishes of World War II to the Israelis owning the Mid East skies in the Six Day War and Korea and Vietnam in between, the major conflicts that involved dogfights get the CGI treatment. It's an innovative approach to historical documentaries…but does it work?

The Evidence

Hell, yes, it does. Simply put, Dogfights is the single greatest history-themed series I've ever seen, and any fan of military documentaries should not think twice about spinning these discs. The series is that good.

What the series is known for is the digital recreation of the highlighted dogfights, so I wanted to touch on this element first. The CGI isn't ILM or WETA quality, but it's more than serviceable, and shot well enough to squeeze as much tension out of the visual effects budget as possible. The blurbs on the disc jackets describe the animation it as "video game quality," and that's not far off. Describing the footage as Xbox 360 or PS3-standard is a fair assessment. The CGI is smooth, efficiently detailed and doesn't suffer from jaggies or any other artifacts that is found in low-budget animation. When the backgrounds aren't simply "sky" (e.g., jungles of Vietnam, deserts of the Middle East), the quality dips enough to stand out, but not distract from the action. In short, the computer graphics are up to snuff and combined with some fine boilerplate action-war-movie music.

The stories are grouped by themes and time periods and told in a mix of interviews with the actual pilots, historians, even a top gun instructor, authentic period footage and the recreated dogfights themselves. It's a great game-plan that keeps the 45-minute program fresh and varied and lends more ka-pow to the bread and butter CGI dogfights.

Let's take a closer look at the episodes:

Disc One
"MiG Alley"
The series kicks off with a glance into the air war in Korea, as America's F-86 Sabres tangle with Russian-built MiG-15 fighters, the bane of the United States and United Nations. MiG alley refers to a treacherous stretch of sky where MiGs patrolled and feasted on hapless aircraft.

"Air Ambush"
Tired of having their planes whacked by North Vietnamese MiGs in Vietnam, fighter pilot Colonel Robin Olds puts together a plan to lure the MiGs into a sting operation in the infamous Project Bolo.

Disc 2
"Flying Tigers"
Hired American top guns the Flying Tigers contract with the Chinese in the 1940s, a country that is desperate for pilots to repel the overwhelming Japanese fighters and bombers. The Japanese are tormented by the new boys in town and the Flying Tigers make a name for themselves in the lore of dogfighting.

During the pivotal World War II battle for Guadalcanal, the air war has a major impact on the fighting. The threadbare American air component—the Cactus Air Force—overcame big odds to control the skies.

"Hell Over Hanoi"
Another visit to Vietnam finds supersonic air combat the order of the day and radar-guided and heat-seeking missiles to weapons of choice against the badass MiG-21s.

Disc Three
"The Zero Killer"
Japan's lethal Zero fighter has owned the skies of the Pacific theater, but the Americans unleash the F6F Hellcat and even the odds.

"The Last Gunfighter"
At the cusp of missile-oriented dogfighting, the F8 Crusader tears up MiGs in Vietnam with its cannons.

"Death of the Japanese Navy"
My favorite episode of the season also features the least amount of actual aerial dogfighting. Desperate to protect the land force in the Philippines a tiny U.S. Naval task unit stands up to the might of the Japanese war fleet, led by the Yamato, the largest battleship ever made.

Disc Four
"Long Odds"
Spanning the World War II to Vietnam theatres, the theme for this episode is impossible odds. In each dogfight, the numbers are stacked against the Americans, including an awesome 45-minute endurance challenge by an American flying fortress besieged by a squadron of Japanese fighters.

"Dogfights of the Middle East"
The Israeli Air Force carves out its reputation as sky-owners as the Jewish pilots dismantle the Egyptian MiG force during the Six Day War.

"Hunt for the Bismarck"
In a mixture of air and sea combat, the British air forces embark on a relentless search for Germany's fabled warship, the Bismarck, and attempt to sink it.

There are so many iconic moments captured in this season, and all the stories that are recreated are money. Some sequences are more thrilling than others (the canyon chase, the flying fortress miracle run, all of "Death of the Japanese Navy"), but there's not a single clunker in the set. The standard of heroism and skill on display here is simply breathtaking, and having the actual pilots that performed such feats is a fantastic addition; the human element grounds the exciting CGI scenes and gives them more punch.

The episodes look great, though the non-anamorphic widescreen treatment is a real buzzkill. The video quality itself is sharp, and the computer animation looks clean and detailed. Audio comes courtesy of a 2.0 stereo, which lacks the pop of a true 5.1 mix—a treatment that could have rocked your system with the dogfight scenes—but decoded into a fake surround should provide adequate aural satisfaction. The extras: the meaty 90-minute pilot episode "Dogfights: Greatest Air Battles" and a featurette called "Dogfights: The Planes," which runs through many of the planes featured on the show.

Closing Statement

This is easily the coolest history show I've ever seen. Highly recommended.

The Verdict

five out of five icemans

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Scales of Justice

Video: 80
Audio: 85
Extras: 85
Acting: 95
Story: 95
Judgment: 92

Perp Profile

Studio: History Channel
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 517 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Documentary
• War

Distinguishing Marks

• Pilot Episode
• "Dogfights: The Planes" Feature


• IMDb
• Official Site

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