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.
These guys's mouths write checks that their bodies do cash.
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?
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:
"Hell Over Hanoi"
"The Last Gunfighter"
"Death of the Japanese Navy"
"Dogfights of the Middle East"
"Hunt for the Bismarck"
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.
This is easily the coolest history show I've ever seen. Highly recommended.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: History Channel
• Pilot Episode
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