Blu-ray Review HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: WWII in HD (Highly Recommended)

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Neil Middlemiss, Jan 25, 2010.

  1. Neil Middlemiss

    Neil Middlemiss Producer
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    WWII in HD
     
    Studio: History Channel
    Year: 2009
    US Rating: NR
    Film Length: 7hrs, 35 Mins
    Video: 1080i High Definition 16X9 - 1.78:1
    Audio: English 5.1 DTS Master Audio and 2.0
    Subtitles:
     
    “We are all of us children of earth—grant us that simple knowledge. If our brothers are oppressed, then we are oppressed. If they hunger, we hunger. If their freedom is taken away, our freedom is not secure. Grant us a common faith that man shall know bread and peace-that he shall know justice and righteousness, freedom and security, an equal opportunity and an equal chance to do his best, not only in our own lands, but throughout the world. And in that faith let us march, toward the clean world our hands can make. Amen."
     
    The Film: 4.5 out of 5
     
    The greatest generation. The last great war. World War II; arguably the most sprawling, devastating, and globally affecting conflict in the history of humankind, has yielded some of the most incredible stories of heroism and bravery that the world has ever known; though anyone you speak to from that terrible war would brush off notions of heroism with a quip about “just doing what needed to be done”. While the war was raging, Hollywood was telling stories of the fight – and for decades after Germany and Japan had surrendered, tales of battles lost and won would be explored, and the bold, brave, battered and bruised effort of the allied forces would have their stories told.
     
    World War II raged across Europe and North Africa for years before Japan awakened the sleeping giant of the United States in 1942 with their sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. That devastating act formalized America’s involvement in the conflict, and opened up an incredible front in the Pacific theater. In short, WWII was one of the most remarkable periods in human history.
     
    For two years, researchers scoured the globe in search of footage from the war. WWII is perhaps one of the most documented periods in history, but this effort to find footage was different. The footage being sought was little or never before seen color footage. After the two year global effort, researches had compiled a staggering amount of footage, captured by dedicated members of the armed services, embedded journalists, and others. The footage was assembled around the lives of 12 individuals in to a narrative, documenting many bloody and brutal battles from France, to Italy, to North Africa, and from Guadalcanal, to the Solomon Islands, and the Philippines. The footage is nothing short of incredible; a fascinating front-lines view, in color, of the gruesome and terrifying power of warfare.
     
    The 12 lives followed by the documentary range from a field army nurse to an embedded TIME/LIFE journalist, naval officers, a Tuskegee Airman, and marines. Each life is explored through their words documented in diaries, war journals, books published, and recent interviews. The power and intimacy of battle – and the sheer magnitude of the conflict, come searingly into focus in an unparalleled way. There is heart and heroism drenched in the words which addle between hopeful and hopeless. Some of the 12 are alive today; some died in the conflict, but each are unique and their stories revealing of their fears. The 12 lives we follow, and the actors who bring their words to life, are: Jack Werner (Justin Bartha), Rockie Blunt(Rob Corddry), Richard Tregaskis (Tim DeKay), Archie Sweeney (Mark Hefti), Jimmie Kanaya (James Kyson Lee), Charles Scheffel (Ron Livingston), Shelby F. Westbrook (LL Cool J), Robert Sherrod (Rob Lowe), Bert Stiles (Josh Lucas), Jack Yusen (Jason Ritter), June Wandrey (Amy Smart), and Nolen Marbrey (Steve Zahn). Rob Lowe’s reading of TIME/LIFE war correspondent Robert Sherrod in particular is sobering – perhaps because of his journalistic eloquence, or the gruesome battles he witness, but Lowe delivers his words with the a somber and serious solemnity.
     
    The overarching story of the war is narrated by Gary Sinise. Sinise provides a straightforward, emotionally neutral cadence and tone; a simple gravity which provides hints of the despair and desperation felt at points in the conflict, balanced with the trial and triumph of victory. His narration is perfect as we follow the mostly linear path from Pearl Harbor, to Japan’s reluctant surrender several days after the second atomic bomb destroyed Nagasaki.
     
    WWII in HD documentation of war as seen and told through the lives of just 12 provides an dramatic power among the vastness of the fight. European allied forces gave countless lives, and their contributions, though not specifically documented here, are weaved in to the stories and battles covered. But this series is designed specifically to tell an American perspective, and with that understanding, this series is nothing short of extraordinary. This documentary is a marvel of editing, narrative construction, and thoughtful, emotional, storytelling. Assembling what must have been a vast, disparate array of footage culled from across the globe, in to a compelling, engaging, and at times tense experience, is a fine accomplishment, and riveting from the first shot, to the closing moments.
     
    Images of the contorted dead; fields of fallen soldiers and civilians killed in the throes of battle, or caught in the ferocity of crossfire, strike a solemn tone frequently throughout the more than seven hours running time. These images are horrific and devastating; vicious reminders of wars’ brutal toll. The inexplicable mass suicides on the Island of Saipan; the emaciated, frail skin and bone survivors of Hitler’s holocaust of the Jews mark perhaps the most distressing images.
     
    In the end, the guttural and awful reality of war is mixed expertly with the sweeping, swelling surge of victory. The balance of these sides is incredibly well maintained, and should be applauded.
     
    Episode 1: Darkness Falls
    Episode 2: Hard Way Back
    Episode 3: Bloody Reserve
    Episode 4: Battle Stations
    Episode 5: Day of Days
    Episode 6: Point of No Return
    Episode 7: Striking Distance
    Episode 8: Glory and Guts
    Episode 9: Edge of the Abyss
    Episode 10: End Game
     
     
    The Video: 4 out of 5
     
    As you might expect, the quality of the footage varies, but regardless of the extent of damage, wear, tear, and fading, the meticulous effort to restore and transfer to High Definition can be appreciated. Shown here over two discs in 1.78:1 and enhanced for widescreen televisions, the footage has been cropped to fit the widescreen frame, but so vivid are some of the images; so clear – that it is surprising how old they are. Much of the footage is marked with scratches and other damage, but the clarity found throughout may very well surprise you due to the faithful act of finding, restoring, and preserving the footage. The footage was screened and shot with Red camera to digitally store the image., and was shot at a higher resolution to preserve the quality since quite a bit of what is visible in the original frame is cropped for this presentation. What is shown is remarkable, and the stories so vivid and engaging that the footage that has suffered the most over time does not at all detract from the power of the experience.  
     
     
     
    The Sound: 4.5 out of 5
     
    The DTS-HD 5.1 audio track available is immersive, full-field, and the most powerful audio track I have ever heard for a television show. The zipping sounds of bullets from rifles and machine guns rage from front speakers to surrounds – the explosive boom of mortar fire, grenades, and the massive shells fired from the awesome American naval fleet, frequently punctuate and pound. The roaring engines of American fighter planes, and the heavier, slower, bombers, growls and prowls, and Gary Sinise’s narration is always clear in the center channel, as are the voices of the guest actors providing dramatic audio of the 12 lives, and the heroic dramatic score, led by strings, sweep throughout the channels. An exemplary audio.
     
     
    The Extras: 2.5 out of 5
     
    Character Profiles (14:55): Profiles of those followed through the series are examined – including additional footage not shown during the series of the conversations with them.
     
    Finding the Footage (2:28): A brief look at the effort to research and find original color footage shot during WWII.  
     
    Preserving the Footage (1:55): A very brief look at the effort of transferring the footage to a digital medium.
     
     
     
    Final Thoughts
     
    Both the enormity and intimacy of World War II is shared through the remarkable assemblage of rare color footage. Most footage from this war seen through the years has been black and white –somehow separating us from that now long-past era. This color footage reminds us just how close in history we really are to that global battle for freedom. Like the footage commonly seen of the Vietnam war, the fierce fighting in the Pacific theater, and the deadly charge to reclaim Europe from the grip of Hitler, is seen here upon the weary, brave, smiling or sullen faces of marines, soldiers, and sailors, captured by journalists and correspondents following behind and among the hunkered charges of these men, and in the trenches, foxholes, and webs of jungle, where the many battles unfolded. WWII in HD is a fascinating experience, and in many ways, should be required viewing. Not just for the significance of what has been crafted here by the documentary, but for the constant reminder I feel we should all have of the magnificent sacrifice of the millions who fought, lived and died.
     
    Highly Recommended!
     
     
    Overall 4.5 out of 5
     
    Neil Middlemiss
    Kernersville, NC

     
  2. Adam Gregorich

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    I ordered this yesterday as I couldn't pass it up for $19.99 at Amazon. Your review just further validates my purchase!
     
  3. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Administrator
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    Neil,

    Count me in as another that was taken in by your review
    and Amazon's amazing price.

    Ever since watching Band of Brothers and Ken Burns
    The War I have become very interested in WWII. This
    documentary seems as if it will be equally as interesting.

    Ordered.
     
  4. Dennis Maricic

    Dennis Maricic Stunt Coordinator

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    Excellent Review Neil.

    It has convinced me to pick up a copy today.

    Looking forward to the viewing.
     
  5. Southpaw

    Southpaw Supporting Actor

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    I'm in as well. Just ordered from Amazon. Thanks for the review.
     
  6. Jason_V

    Jason_V Producer

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    I'll echo Neil's comments about the tech specs. The video is stunning in its clarity, considering how/when it was shot and the audio rivals any big budget movie I've thrown into the player. It may even be better than Star Trek, my current favorite window rattler.
     
  7. Mike Frezon

    Mike Frezon Moderator
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    Is most of the audio that's being discussed here original to the footage...or would you suspect it has been "enhanced" in post-production?

    Just curious. It doesn't matter to me either way but I just wouldn't expect the audio fidelity of the original material to match the visual quality you all are raving about.

    I will be in for this...that's for absolutely sure.
     
  8. Adam Gregorich

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    Thats pretty amazing for a TV show.
     
  9. Neil Middlemiss

    Neil Middlemiss Producer
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    Mike - most certainly enhanced post-production. Really it is a sound FX track provided to enhance the experience, but so well produced (timed) that one could easily be fooled in to believing it is native.

     
  10. Timothy E

    Timothy E Supporting Actor
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    Great review, Neil! I cannot wait for my disc to arrive from Amazon.
     
  11. RickER

    RickER Producer

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    Mike, it is my understanding, and i could be wrong, but most battle footage from WWII was silent. The sound effects were always added later. Even back in the day it was not the real sound effects being used. If i recall, most of the footage was 8 and 16mm. Which would make sense, since a bigger camera would be to heavy to move around during a battle.

    Of course i am no expert on WWII, just a buff of that time in history. So, i could be wrong.
     
  12. FlexMentallo

    FlexMentallo Extra

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    I think you're correct, Ricker.

    In the making of documentary on the World at War DVDs, that show's producer Jeremy Isaacs talks at length about the topics of adding sound effects to mostly silent wartime footage, using footage in incorrect locations/times and using footage believed to be re-staging of events for showreels. I think his assessment was that their mission was to tell the story of the war in visuals and audio, so taking license was warranted if they didn't have the correct footage available and it helped to guide the audience through an episode. At least they didn't make the choice lightly. I'd assume the same is the case here.

    Definitely going to buy this, I think I caught one episode on cable, but for 20 bucks I'll pick up the rest blind.

    brad
     
  13. Ronald Epstein

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    "War is stupid. Crazy. We've got to have love on our planet."

    - Charles Scheffel

    "The people who create those situations
    are never the ones who are out there fighting
    "

    - Shelby Westbrook

    Words spoken by the Veterans of war whose
    personal stories are told in this riveting documentary
    of World War II.

    Having spent these two days watching this
    7-hour introspective, I am left with only glimpses
    of haunting imagery that have forever been burned
    into the souls of the men and women who fought
    in World War II.

    This is a brilliantly pieced together documentary
    that belongs at the top of the list for anyone who
    is curious about the accounts of WWII.

    Certainly, the biggest flaw of this documentary is
    the fact that the producer has scraped together footage
    that is not accurate to the event being portrayed. Stock
    footage from one battle is attached to another. Certainly,
    with the limited amount of color footage that was taken
    during the war, it is impossible to accurately document
    any one event in its entirety.

    I do give a huge amount of credit, however, to the
    illusion that has been made. It's not very difficult to
    embrace the footage that has been presented and
    wrap yourself into the story -- for that is the most
    important aspect of this presentation.

    The color footage is amazing. I was surprised that
    there was enough of it found to make up nearly 7
    hours of storytelling. After watching countless hours
    of B&W documentary footage of WWII over the years,
    the color adds a very stark reality that I had never
    experienced prior -- some of which is very graphic in
    nature.

    A huge amount of credit must also be given to
    the foley work that has been done with this footage.
    The sound that accompanies these clips captures
    the smallest of nuances right down to bodies sliding
    off a stretcher. You can complain about the fact that
    the footage may not be accurate, but with all the
    enhancements that have been done in converting
    them to High Definition and adding compelling sound
    effects, this has got to be one of the most realistic
    documentaries ever made on WWII.

    I would highly, highly recommend its purchase
    as well as Ken Burns The War on DVD which
    is equally as impressive in its storytelling.
     
  14. RickER

    RickER Producer

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    I bought this on Blu-ray too, and i am still in the middle of watching it.
    Very impressed with the Blu-ray production. I understand the DVD version is not even anamorphic wide screen!

    Anyway, it looks to me that a small portion of this footage is colorized, or at the very least 2 strip Technicolor. Anyone know?

    The footage doesn't even need to be all color. Its still a good series.
     
  15. Jason_V

    Jason_V Producer

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    There are small segments that are in black and white which History didn't colorize. My guess is none of the color footage was messed with after the fact. There wouldn't be much sense in colorizing some and leaving some b/w.

    But then, the DVD not being in 16:9 doesn't make much sense either, now does it?
     
  16. David_Jr

    David_Jr Supporting Actor

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    This was a bargain at $20. Finished disc one.

    Hard to watch at times, especially scene of Nazi's hanging 36 random businessmen and then shooting other civilians against a wall. The savagery of war comes through loud and clear. The bunkbeds in the subway in London was also something I hadn't seen before.
     
  17. Mike Frezon

    Mike Frezon Moderator
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    It is now even more of a bargain as Amazon has dropped this to $16.49 for anyone (like me) who didn't yet pull the trigger.

    Happy Father's Day to me!
     
  18. ScottJH

    ScottJH Supporting Actor

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    It's $15.99 @ Deepdiscount during the 25% off sale or $14.99 @ Best Buy.
     
  19. RickER

    RickER Producer

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    Damn, already got it. And i thought i was getting a deal at $20. It was cheaper than the DVD version.
     
  20. Mike Frezon

    Mike Frezon Moderator
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