Judge Victor Valdivia fought at Anzio, Leyte, and the Bulge. He then turned off his Xbox and wrote this review.
15 acclaimed documentaries on four discs.
Usually, the combination of History (nee the History Channel) and World War II makes for a rollicking good time full of war stories, great footage, and plenty of Nazis being blowed up real good. Not this time. The War Chronicles, the series that's compiled in Ultimate Collections: World War II: The War in Europe and the Pacific, is a relic from the old days of historical programming; it actually predates the History Channel by over a decade. It also proves why people used to hate educational programming, because this series, like too many pre-History shows, is boring, pedantic, and superficial. Who knew combat footage and war stories could be so tedious?
Here are the episodes collected on four discs:
Originally filmed in 1983, the shows consist entirely of combat footage and narration by actor Patrick O'Neal (Chamber of Horrors), who also hosts. Each episode only lasts about 20 minutes, so there are no interviews or in-depth analysis. Also, these episodes are extremely low-tech—when O'Neal wants to show on a map where important battles took place, he doesn't rely on fancy CG or even regular animation. He simply pulls out a map and points with his finger on it.
In theory, this could be charmingly dated. Certainly, the primitive graphics and unflashy storytelling will drive current History viewers, the kind who devour schlock like UFO Hunters, screaming from the room. Unfortunately, they're not the only ones who will be running. Part of the problem is O'Neal himself. His narration is hopelessly mind-numbing. He drones on and on with little variation in pitch or emotion. You may find his incessant blather a useful substitute for Ambien, but if you're actually interested in learning about the war, you'll doze off long before there's any possibility of that happening.
Even worse is that each episode is so short that they all end up way too superficial. The narration is badly written—instead of telling a compelling story (which one would think would be easy to do with WWII), it just recites fact after fact with no context or depth. It essentially sounds like this: This battle happened, then this battle, then this battle, and so on. Dates and numbers are recited with little explanation, making them hard to remember or even understand. You'll feel like you're being subjected to the most boring high school lecture in the world and a test is due next week. Over the course of three discs, that's a crucial flaw.
The only other program on this set isn't much better. The episode of Biography dedicated to Navy Admiral "Bull" Halsey, one of the heroes of the Pacific war against the Japanese, suffers from the same flaws as the main show—not surprising, since it was directed by the same technical team. It's dull, plodding, and lacking in much depth. Halsey was an important figure during the Pacific Theatre, but you'd never know it from this dreary show. It would have been a much better idea to include a much better episode dedicated to a major figure, like Roosevelt, Churchill, or Hitler.
Technical specs are pretty unexceptional. The full-screen transfer is adequate but shows the age of the archival footage. Even the more modern segments, which are over twenty years old, don't look so great. There are no extras.
Ultimately, there's no reason to buy this set, even if you're a WWII buff. History has already issued these four discs as part of a larger ten-disc set titled The History Channel Ultimate Collections: World War II, which adds far more entertaining shows. The shows seen here are too one-dimensional for WWII buffs and too badly made for novices.
Guilty of being the kind of tedious nonfiction shows that people avoid.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: History Channel
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