Color Judge David Johnson excited about history!
War is hell (now in color)!
There seems to be plenty of these vintage-footage driven World War II sets out there. Does this recent offering from Lions Gate raise the bar or merely limbo under it?
Facts of the Case
So a while ago there was this jerk named Hitler and he waged this pretty insane war with some of his friends, but he eventually got his ass kicked and then he shot himself.
Well, there's more to that, and that's why we have mammoth history sets like this one. WWII: Road to Victory is a 440-minute compendium of some of the war's most pivotal battles that took place on sea, land, and in air. Unlike many sets of this ilk, WWII: Road to Victory tells its story in full-color. This is a good thing and a bad thing, which I will get into later.
Anyway, here is a list of what you'll find on this five-disc set:
Fall of Berlin
Fall of Poland
Bombing of Germany
Battle of Stalingrad
Battle of Okinawa
Battle of Anzio
Battle of Sicily
Battle of Remagen
Bombing of Ploesti
Liberation of Paris
Fall of the Philippines
Okay, I'm a junkie for these kinds of World War II sets. I certainly wouldn't classify myself as a full-scale WWII buff, but I've always found this particular chapter in world history most compelling. I've read a few books, scarfed up some Steven Ambrose, and would consider HBO's Band of Brothers as "desert island discs," but expert I'm not.
What I can tell you, is that Lions Gate has put together an exhaustive compilation of excellent battle footage and informative narration, all preceded with bad-ass intros that end with "ON THE BATTLEFREONT!!" This is an expression I'm so enamored with I've started to use it in my day-to-day life; e.g. "I'm going to watch these Saved by the Bell reruns…ON THE BATTLEFRONT!" or "How about a bowl of Frosted Flakes…ON THE BATTLEFRONT!"
A major element of this set that could either invite or repel viewers is the colorization of the footage. I went into the viewing very skeptical. I own a History Channel World War II collection, which retains the original black-and-white war footage, and to some extent, feels more authentic than this new full-color edition.
Honestly, that's as far an impact on the experience goes with the colorizing. Where a movie like Casablanca may just not seem right minus its original black-and-white, I think WWII: Road to Victory adopted the process for practical reasons.
Simply put, it's easier to see what's happening with the new contrasts. You can tell what side the soldiers are on, and landscapes are more detailed. The carnage is that much more jarring in color—as synthetic as it may be—which certainly adds to the experience.
All in all, it seems like a deadlock in the authenticity vs. practicality debate.
Overall the presentation is solid, especially with the options of skipping chapters within the separate battle chronicles. However, I'm befuddled at the lack of chronology in the set. I mean, the third episode is the friggin' Fall of Berlin! It would have been nice to have this otherwise nifty set track the war from the beginning to end.
The sound is strong enough for a stereo mix, and manages the frenzied gunfire and explosions effectively.
There are no extras on the set.
One more thing. The set is damn cheap. I've seen it for as low as $20, and for 440 minutes of WW II action, that comes out to less than a nickel a minute!
A good value for you history fans out there, though the faux-color may keep buyers at bay.
The court digs the set (as in "dig a foxhole and take cover!!!") Court adjourned.
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