They’ve been called The Greatest Generation, and who are we to argue the point? Sitting here writing reviews from my comfortable seat in a state-of-the-art home theater, I’m in no position to lay claim to the title. They fought in the bloodiest conflict in modern human history. Over 20 million were killed. That’s a staggering number. If you’re like me, it’s not even real. I can honestly say that those facts have never really reached home as much as they did while watching this footage.
World War II has been a favorite topic for Hollywood films since before the war itself ended. There have been some truly remarkable efforts and some equally unremarkable disasters. Many of these films have been long forgotten. Heck, many of them deserve to be forgotten. But something that should never be forgotten is the stuff of this footage. To do so would be a sacrilege of the worst kind. But these war films, no matter how startling the scenes, no matter how real we might think they are, no matter how visceral the experience might appear, nothing can ever capture the reality like this footage has done.
I invite you to bear witness to one of the most important events in American history. World War II brought America out of the shadows of isolationism and onto the world stage as a leader and eventual superpower. Whether or not you agree with what the event made us or not, it would be utter folly to deny the transformation. See, for the first time, some incredible footage of the war in full color, and now in high definition. No matter your politics, age, or historical interest, this release belongs on every video shelf in America… and beyond. No actors. No special effects. No retakes. This is World War II like you’ve never seen it, unless, of course, you were there. Less than 10 % of those who were there are alive today.
The series was produced and aired to great critical acclaim in 1973. Each episode takes you on a chronological look at the war. It begins long before the actual conflict and examines the world of Germany in the years leading up to Hitler’s control. I’m impressed with how rounded the entire series is. You get more than just a ton of battle footage. You see real faces of civilians touched by the ravages of war. The show can’t help but pull on your heartstrings a bit. The narration is provided by the wonderful voice of Sir Laurence Olivier. His presentation is authoritive but often gentle enough to make us believe he’s there talking to us.
Each episode is presented in 1.78:1. This is not the original aspect ratio and might cause some to avoid the release. The original image was full-frame. This is not a stretched or distorted presentation of that material. Instead the image was re-cropped to fit the widescreen format. That means the action might not be centered in exactly the same way. I’m fine with this presentation, because this is how it would have been cropped had the series been made today. The 1080p image is arrived at with a AVC/MPEG-4 codec at an average 18 mbps. While this is indeed a high-definition presentation, you have to always keep in mind that this is 60+ year old combat footage, taken under the most harrowing of conditions and with limited equipment. The footage is often grainy and at times poorly focused. But even in the worst of the footage, the sharpness of the restoration comes through. I have honestly not seen this kind of vintage footage look this well preserved. Some of it is absolutely amazing in its clarity. Of course, some of it is very poor. All in all, this stuff is an archivist’s dream come true.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 offers a much more dynamic sound presentation than the original series ever could. For you purists, the original mono presentation is also included. I opted for the new sound, which really brought the sounds of the conflict into my home theater. The subs get excellent work throughout. You can hear the narration perfectly at all times.
This is an impressive collection. You get all 26 episodes and great extras on this 9 disc collection. You will also find the following extras:
Bonus Footage For Select Episodes
The Making Of The World At War: (50:17) The feature is hosted by Jeremy Isaacs. He talks about the decision process as they made the series. He defends what was left in and what might not have gotten a lot of coverage. He talks about the philosophy they kept throughout the process to not invent or reconstruct.
Making The Series In Three Segments: (2:08:26) You can’t get more information than this feature-length documentary on the series. It’s vintage and doesn’t look very good, but offers a ton of insight into both the series and the war itself.
Experiences Of War: (1:01:19) Extended interview footage of the participants that were interviewed in the series.
Restoring The World At War: (31:04) Go into the labs and see how the series went through a meticulous restoration process. Don’t mind the tech who refers to the audio as “surrounding sound”.
There are also text episode summaries, biographies, and a brief history of the war. These are often repeated on multiple discs.
The series has been available on DVD for quite some time. But now it has been carefully restored and looks absolutely fabulous. The quality of the original presentation shines through like never before. I suspect the upgrade will be worth it even if you disagree with the restoration decision to change the cropping. You can still hang on to your DVD collection if you wish. But I suspect that you will turn to these Blu-rays when you want to watch this again. It’s as close as you’re ever going to get to “a day which will live in infamy”.