Climb Mount Niitaka.
With those words the mission to cripple the American Pacific Fleet was begun, and would result in thousands of lives lost then and many thousands more to come. With the big budget Michael Bay version about to hit theaters, the History Channel is quick to provide a two-disc DVD set of what really happened on Dec. 7, 1941. History buffs will be happy to get this concentration of archival footage and interviews permanently added to their library.
Disc one of the set contains the Pearl Harbor program. As expected, this is a 93-minute documentary about the attack itself. All the political and military aspects leading up to the attack, along with the attack itself are covered in great detail. Plenty of footage from both sides of the conflict is used, along with interviews of people who were at Pearl that fateful day, again from both sides of the conflict. Biographical along with historical information is given of all the major players. Finally the conspiracy theories that have surrounded that day are examined and put to rest; all those stories about Roosevelt knowing ahead of time about the attack and doing nothing are just that, stories. Historians examine every aspect of the time and the attack and add their thoughts to the eyewitness accounts. It is all done with a flowing pace that keeps the interest level up, managing to be both educational and entertaining.
Disc two is extra content that is peripherally related to the Pearl Harbor attack but not directly so. Two documentaries make up the second disc. The first is "Admiral Chester Nimitz: Thunder of the Pacific" and is a 45-minute thorough biography of the most famous Admiral of WWII. He took a broken and dispirited fleet and turned it quickly into the force that would win the Pacific theater. His keen planning and using every advantage at his disposal led to winning the Battle of Midway just months after the devastating losses at Pearl Harbor.
The second documentary is a bit puzzling. "America's Five Star Heroes: The Pacific Commanders" is ostensibly a biographical look at all the major commanders at the theater, but it seems to fit the others into the same documentary we'd just seen. Generals like MacArthur get short pieces stuck into the middle of the same Nimitz information, which is copied from the first documentary. I'd almost go so far as to recommend just watching this second documentary; what you lose from the first isn't missed very much.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The similarity of the two documentaries on the second disc is my only real gripe. About 75% of the second feature is identical footage from the first, which makes watching both redundant and tends toward boredom. I welcome the additional coverage of other fine leaders of the age such as Bull Halsey and Douglas MacArthur, but it would have been nice to have covered the other leaders more and Nimitz less, since he had been the main focus of the other documentary.
The quality of the DVD presentation is adequate for the purpose. As you would expect, much of the footage is original shots from the war, and the quality of the image is soft and grainy. This footage wasn't pristine to begin with, and has had 60 years to degrade since. The interview footage is sharp and clear in contrast. The sound is a workmanlike Dolby Surround, but the entire program is dialogue driven anyway. Give your subwoofer and rear surrounds a rest.
If you want to find out more about what really happened at Pearl Harbor, then take a look at this, not the Michael Bay blockbuster. Or it could be used after watching the Hollywood version to ground you back in reality. In any case, history buffs like me will be happy to grab up this fine set of documentaries.
It is too late to assign guilt for the atrocities of WWII; those charges have been made and dealt with for almost 60 years. The History Channel is commended for providing an interesting and cerebral alternative for jaded television viewers tired of the constant patter of sitcoms and game shows.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: History Channel
• Bonus Documentaries
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