Judge Jim Thomas thinks high definition improves aerial combat footage immensely.
WWII like you have never seen it before.
When we think of vintage World War II footage, we think of jerky, grainy, black-and-white images. However, color movie film was available. Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind were released in 1939, remember—so there was a small amount of color footage from World War II. A two-year search through America and Europe turned up a fair amount of color footage; the gurus over at the History Channel worked to sort it out and see what kind of stories could be told. The result was a series of films that examined the war through the experiences of ten individuals: different walks of life, different theaters of operations, different everything. To up the ante, the producers rescanned the footage and upgraded it to high-definition. It's now out as WWII 3-Film Collection (Blu-ray).
WWII in HD
The ten episodes are fascinating, informative, frequently spellbinding. It's one thing to hear Robert Shaw describe the fate of the USS Indianapolis in Jaws; it's quite another to hear a similar tale from someone who actually lived through such a tale. The series doesn't give you an appreciation of the strategy and tactics of war. While you can occasionally glean such information from between the lines, the focus is squarely on these ten remarkable unremarkable individuals. As their stories play out, the series drives home the simple truth that the sacrifices depicted in movies like Saving Private Ryan and The Best Years of Our Lives are not the exception, but rather the rule. The series is worthwhile for that alone.
The "HD" appellation might be stretching the truth a wee bit, but the clarity of the footage is often remarkable—not just battle sequences, but scenes from everyday life, and even a few disquietingly vivid clips of Adolf Hitler. The specials all carry a parental advisory, and it is well-earned. There are graphic images right out of Saving Private Ryan here, and parents are strongly advised to prescreen the set before allowing their children to watch. The vintage footage is all silent, of course, so the audio was all recreated—the result is an immersive DTS-HD track.
Supplemental features include a featurette with footage that didn't make the final cut, as well as a very brief look at the project that tracked down, restored, and assembled the footage.
WWII in HD: The Air War
26,000 Eighth Air Force men will die—more than the U.S. Marines lost in all of WWII.
That opening text sucks you right into the story. The film is more or less designed as a companion piece to the earlier, larger series. Wisely, rather than focus on the entirety of WWII air combat, which couldn't possibly be covered in a single film, the producers focus not just on Europe, not just on the 8th Air Force, but they examine the 8th Air Force in the context of its ultimate goal to set the stage for D-Day. That structure allows it to dovetail perfectly with the earlier episodes.
This disc does have some significant technical issues. For one thing, the disc is mislabeled "The War from Space." More importantly, though, is that the audio mixing has some serious issues. While the video and audio are initially on par with the previous series, about halfway through the documentary, the audio levels change so that the music and sound effects almost drown out the narration.
WWII From Space
In terms of tactics, troop movements, and such, there's some good information here and there, and several of the talking heads provide real insights into what was going on behind the scenes. Still, it's impossible to do justice to the entire war in such a small running time, and the whole "From Space" comes across as a blatantly transparent gimmick, because WWII With Animated Maps doesn't sound nearly as cool. The producers of this feature should have either heeded the lesson of WWII in HD: The Air War and narrowed the focus to a more manageable level, or done multiple episodes.
Technically, the video is the strongest of the lot, but then again, with all the CGI, how could it not?
While the third title is poorly conceived and executed, the first two titles offer a memorable look at some of the individuals who fought the war. After viewing the set, that term "The Greatest Generation" doesn't seem like much of an exaggeration.
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