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WWII in HD Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

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#1 of 6 Neil Middlemiss

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Posted November 11 2011 - 03:58 AM


The History Channel’s WWII in HD receives a quality repackage and reissue with some impressive additions to qualify as a collector’s edition. Originally released as a 2-Disc set on Blu-Ray, this release adds an hour long documentary on the brutal Battle for Iwo Jima, with extraordinary footage of the pounding the island took before the full-scale assault (the largest the Marines had ever mounted) was launched, and wrenching footage of the fierce fight the Marines undertook against a well-prepared and deeply entrenched Japanese force. Also included is the 90 minute documentary, The Air War, which aired on The History Channel for Veteran’s Day last year. This is a genuinely engrossing and potent documentation of the vicious and deadly fight the American 8th Air Force fought against the German Luftwaffe and fortified anti-aircraft defenses in their effort to take the fight to Germany and bomb into submission the enemy in lead up to the D-Day invasion. One of the four men followed in this documentary is the late Andy Rooney, former commentator on CBS’s 60 Minutes, who died last week. Rooney was stationed in the UK during World War II writing for Stars & Stripes, and he, along with three pilots whose stories are told, make evermore real the danger and daring of those who served.  
 

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WWII in HD Collector’s Edition


Studio: History Channel
Year: 2009/10
US Rating: NR
Film Length: 10hrs 5 Minutes
Video: VC-1 - 1080i High Definition


Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS Master Audio and 2.0


Subtitles: NA


Release Date: November 15, 2011

Review Date: November 11, 2011


“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/ 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.


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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.


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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.


Disc One

Episode 1: Darkness Falls

Episode 2: Hard Way Back

Episode 3: Bloody Reserve

Episode 4: Battle Stations

Episode 5: Day of Days


Disc Two

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



New to this collector’s edition are two documentaries. An hour-long look at the strategic necessity to invade and conquer the small island of Iwo Jima, an historic battle in the Pacific, perhaps best known for the iconic image of the Marines erecting the American flag atop Mt. Suribachi. This brutal moment in the Pacific theater of war is fascinating for its shifting strategic importance, and for the strategy employed to take it from a well-prepared and larger than expected Japanese force.


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The second new documentary is a brilliant concentration on the battle for the skies over Europe. We watch as the men of the American 8th Air Force sacrifice their lives to beat back the dominance of the German Luftwaffe launching the B-17 flying fortresses into heavily protected German territory to bomb strategic targets and soften Germany’s air power in preparation for the Allied Forces bold D-Day plans. Unbeknownst to many, the 8th Air Force suffered more casualties in their brave runs over Germany – bombing foundries and factories in an effort to tamper the Nazi machine. The strategy to launch bombing attacks deep into German territory – accompanied by the protection of P-47Thunderbolts and P-51Mustangs – was costly, but fortunes turned when the fighter pilots changed from protection to aggression. The helplessness of the vulnerable flying fortresses and the hard earned victories they won against the enemy are explored through incredible color footage and through interviews with three pilots - Joe Armanini, Steve Pisanos, John Gibbons, and war correspondent for the Stars & Stripes, Andy Rooney. As with the WWII in HD series, the recounting of experiences are voiced by actors, with Casey Affleck voicing Armanini, Sean Astin voicing Pisanos, Chris O’Donnell voicing Gibbons and Elijah Wood voicing Rooney. Rob Lowe provides narration through the hour and a half. Both new documentaries are riveting and the revelation of color footage brings the brutality and bravery to life in remarkable ways. It is impossible not to be drawn in to the story being told; to not be invested in the lives of the marines and pilots; to not be humbled by what they gave of themselves to protect freedom.


Disc Three:

The Battle for Iwo Jima


Disc Four:

WWII in HD: The Air War



The Video

4/5


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

4.5/5


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 the narration from Gary Sinise (and Rob Lowe in The Air War) 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/ 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.


This new edition, in an attractive box with two new riveting documentaries, comes at quite the price premium given the low-cost of the previous release. This set is recommended, but the price should come down by at least $20 first.


Overall, very highly recommended!

Overall (Not an average)

4/5


Neil Middlemiss

Kernersville,



"Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls the adventure Science" – Edwin Hubble
My DVD Collection

#2 of 6 Mark-P

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Posted November 11 2011 - 05:45 AM

They should put out the two extra documentaries separately so that we don't have to re-buy the entire series just to get them. I hate when studios do this: add content in order to try and make sales again to the same customers.

#3 of 6 Flemming.K

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Posted November 11 2011 - 09:28 AM

Same mistake as Freemantles World at War. Enhanced for widescreen. Nope. I wait for fullscreen release!
Waiting impatiently for Sir Ridley Scotts Prometheus!

Danish filmsite Cinefil

#4 of 6 Ronald Epstein

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Posted November 11 2011 - 10:58 AM

I agree with the dismay over the repackaging in order for

people to buy the same content twice.


Have the original set, and I really enjoyed it.  Anyone looking

for a really great WWII documentary should not think twice

about picking up this set....


....thing is, I won't be buying this for the second time.


Ronald J Epstein
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#5 of 6 Jari K

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Posted September 12 2013 - 04:42 AM

One question about the video. Blu-ray is 1080i/60hz, but my receiver says (info) "1080p/60hz". Is this just the receiver thinking it's "1080p", or something else?



#6 of 6 theonemacduff

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Posted September 22 2013 - 01:29 PM

As I pointed out when this documentary was originally reviewed, it's not really HD, because not an inch film was ever actually scanned. The resolution of a digital copy of a film depends on the bit depth at which it is scanned, but what the producers did for this show was project the film, and then used a Red digital camera to record the projected image (as the reviewer correctly notes). Thus, the sharpness of the image depends entirely on the quality of the lens used in the projector, and in one clip included in the extras, we see an old Bell & Howell 16mm projector grinding away, with the Red camera (set slightly off-axis), recording it. A lot can go wrong in a setup like this, as for example, if the screen is too bright, the contrast values of the digitally recorded image will be off. Essentially, what the setup gets you are very large data files, but the images are going to be simply bigger versions of the soft image as projected on the screen. In the absence of a proper scan, even a telecine would produce a better image than the frankly amateurish setup shown in the extras. 

 

In order to get an actual high definition image, rather than a big, soft image, the films would have had to have been scanned, and then colour corrections and damage repair applied, and that didn't happen. It's nice to have the documentary, and the personal stories that go with it, but with footage this rare and hard to find, more work and better work needed to be done in order to properly preserve it. The danger is, that people will think that the footage has indeed been preserved purely because a digital copy of it has been made: but it hasn't. All the effort put into finding the footage was essentially wasted by not conserving it properly.

 

One final point. In the battle for Okinawa, Japanese civilians were convinced by the military and civil authorities that Americans would murder them all, and many of them chose suicide rather than surrender. In one heartbreaking episode, a US combat cameraman captured a mother throwing her toddler off a cliff, and then jumping herself. In the current documentary, this footage is shown. It is purple-ish, the contrast is blown out and it is badly damaged. The very same footage -- held in US archives -- when it was used in a PBS documentary called Victory in the Pacific, was properly coloured, flicker-free, and not showing much signs of damage at all. What this tells us is that either the producers of World War II in HD did not source the best available version of this footage or that they did not bother to apply the corrections that were necessary to the digital files they created. Surely even the image from the Red camera could have been properly colour corrected.







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