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WWII in HD(TV) (2009)
WWII in HD is the first-ever World War II documentary presented in full, immersive HD color. Culled from thousands of hours of lost and rare color archival footage gathered from a worldwide search through basements and archives, WWII in HD will change the way the world sees this defining conflict. Using footage never before seen by most Americans--converted to HD for unprecedented clarity--viewers will experience the war as if they were actually there, surrounded by the real sights and sounds of the battlefields. Along the way they'll meet a diverse group of soldiers whose wartime diaries and journals show in visceral detail what the war was really like.
This visually astonishing landmark series presents the story of World War II through the eyes of 12 Americans who experienced the war firsthand. Viewers will hear the story of Army nurse June Wandrey, who served from the beginning of the war in North Africa to the liberation of the camps in Germany. They will meet Shelby Westbrook, a young African American from Toledo, who became a member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen; Jimmie Kanaya, the son of Japanese immigrants, who served in the U.S. Army and was imprisoned in Europe; and Jack Werner, a Jewish émigré who escaped from Austria before the war and wound up fighting not against Hitler and the hated Nazis, but in the Pacific Theater.
For more about WWII in HD and the WWII in HD Blu-ray release, see WWII in HD Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on January 15, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Justin Bartha, Rob Lowe, Josh Lucas, Gary Sinise, Rob Corddry, Ron Livingston
Directors: Matthew Ginsburg, Frederic Lumiere
» See full cast & crew
WWII in HD Blu-ray Review
Rare archival color footage is combined with moving and often horrifying first person accounts in the riveting 'WWII in HD.'
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, January 15, 2010
It's almost alarming to hear one of the elderly vets whose reminiscences make up the often gut wrenching first-person accounts which are at the heart of WWII in HD say quite nonchalantly while discussing a buddy of his who was killed early in the war, "He wasn't 'great.' He was just an everyday, normal guy who didn't know what he was getting into." That somewhat amazing revisionism vis a vis "The Greatest Generation" may strike some as cold hearted, but it in fact helps to pinpoint one of the great strengths of the often visceral impact of this splendid ten part documentary--its unflinching emphasis on what twelve people of disparate backgrounds and temperaments experienced in the four years of United States involvement in World War II. I frankly didn't know quite what to expect from WWII in HD. Its somewhat breathless accompanying PR hype touted the restored and very rare archival color footage the documentary contained, and so I thought, mistakenly, that I was in for several hours of "home movies" of a sort, all in semi-magnificent high definition. While that is certainly part of this piece, it's really somewhat tangential to the major thrust of what is in actuality a remarkable array of "I was there" memories, illustrated with an extremely well chosen variety of archival images, some of which have never been broadcast before. It all adds up to one of the best relatively "short form" documentaries covering the breadth and depth of World War II. It's perhaps not as exhaustive as The World at War, but WWII in HD certainly delivers the goods as it recounts the horrors and triumphs of a dozen veterans in all branches of the armed services and in most of the major theaters of the global conflict.
WWII in HD gives a perfunctory background prelude into both the 1939-40 European conflicts as well as the United States' putative isolationism and neutral stance (notwithstanding such elements as lend-lease, which are covered at least in passing mentions), which of course decays into rage and calls for revenge, not to mention an outright official declaration of war, with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. With the Pacific Fleet largely decimated, the first forays for American troops were largely land based assaults, and we get some unbelievable first hand accounts of such epochal battles as Guadalcanal. In fact, for those up on their World War II history and its more famous correspondents, out of the twelve people featured in the series, the name Richard Tregaskis will probably jump to the head of the list, as Tregaskis' Guadalcanal Diary is something of a modern classic in war reporting, an unflinching and often devastating account of an attack that started incredibly well, but then had the potential for ending in disaster when the off shore support withdrew to escape vicious Japanese counterattacks.
Though Tregaskis may be the most famous of the people whose experiences are given voice here, the other veterans offer a wealth of incredible detail into skirmishes both large and small. Some of the surviving vets are interviewed, and then their "younger" selves are voiced by actors like Rob Lowe or, of all people, Rob Corddry (of Daily Show fame). What becomes very apparent, and something that is hinted at in that opening statement in my first paragraph above, is that a lot of these kids (and they were indeed kids, some even younger than the official recruiting age) were incredibly naïve, but soon were hardened by the horrors of battle. What shines through, though, is their inerrant nobility in believing they were doing the "right thing" in fighting foes whose racist ideologies were at least "officially" opposed to what the United States stood for. Gary Sinise is also on hand as the narrator, bridging various segments and helping to shape the overall narrative.
What really sets this series apart though is the impeccable job of compiling disparate clips to illustrate the various stories, both personal and global. WWII in HD is a triumph of film editing and especially sound effects mixing. My hunch is most, if not all, of the archival footage utilized for the series was silent, and the sound mixing is stupendously effective, adding everything from bursts of gunfire to anguished cries from wounded soldiers. But the film editing itself is also remarkable. I constantly marveled at the melding of image with account, as when an offhand comment by one of the twelve vets about on deck activities including card playing and gun cleaning was immediately illustrated with completely apt archival footage. Sometimes, as in the North African campaign, some of the film choices are inapt, with lush, verdant footage suddenly anachronistically popping up amidst generally barren desert scenes, but those instances are few and far between. This is a series which by its very nature invites the viewer to really think about these supposedly "inconsequential" scenes being shown, and to wonder about the miles of footage that must have been scoured through to find just the right shot for any given moment of storytelling.
For the squeamish, you should know up front that WWII in HD does include its share of incredibly graphic imagery. This includes everything from heartbreaking scenes of wounded children literally shivering in shock, to more ostensibly horrifying images, such as a group of American soldiers gathered around the smoldering corpse of a burned Japanese sniper. There are also quite graphic scenes of Army field medics performing various surgeries, as well as some disturbing images of quite badly disfigured American soldiers. There are also some rather troubling accounts scattered throughout the series, as in the sort of offhanded anecdote related of an American soldier who was commanded to take a bunch of German POW's back to headquarters, but who shot them all on the spot. His C.O. was about to have him arrested when one of the other squad members mentioned he was Jewish and his parents had been killed by the Nazis. The atrocity, if it can be seen as such, was left to the dust of history and the soldier received no official reprimand.
As upsetting as both the images and stories such as that mentioned above can be, that's part and parcel of what makes WWII in HD such an affecting and effective piece of documentary filmmaking. Too often in this world of "pristine" video game like drone strikes and the sort of vicarious, "safe" viewing experience we all partake of as we watch global unrest spill out of our evening news telecasts, we forget the human element, and the very real trauma, both physical and emotional, suffered by people of every ideology when they are caught up in the trials and tribulations of a war, whether large or small. By focusing on an interesting group of twelve disparate Americans, WWII in HD both personalizes and ironically globalizes the whole story of the conflict, showing how everyday people suddenly found their lives forever changed by events far beyond their individual control. It's a lesson that we all should keep in mind in an increasingly dangerous and troubled world.
WWII in HD Blu-ray, Video Quality
WWII in HD arrives on Blu-ray with a good 1080i VC-1 encoded transfer that is of course sharpest and cleanest in its contemporary interview segments, as well as the interstitials which feature photographs of our twelve subjects as well as maps and, occasionally, CGI illustrated moments with a visual tip of the hat toward global positioning technology. The archival source material is an extremely varied lot, as you may imagine, mostly culled from what looks to be 8mm or 16mm handheld shots. (All of this footage was obviously originally 1.33:1, and it is blown up and cropped at 1.78:1 for this presentation). Some of it is surprisingly sharp, with really excellent color, while other footage is very badly damaged, with scrapes, scratches, dirt, debris and emulsion damage, as well as being desaturated to the point that you may think you're watching one of the early experiments in "colorizing." Overall, though, the historical importance of this footage far outweigh the technical limitations which are at times all too apparent here. It's rare enough to see color footage from this era, and to see so much of it here, with as much of it as there is in at least decent shape, that the less than stellar shape of some of the rest of it really isn't that much of a hindrance.
WWII in HD Blu-ray, Audio Quality
What WWII in HD may at least partially lack in image quality, due to its variegated source material, it at least partially compensates for by an incredibly bombastic DTS HD-MA 5.1 mix. This is one of the most literally assaultive sound mixes in recent memory, with shots zinging to and fro between surrounds, and at times an almost overwhelming amount of LFE in terms of explosions and other thundering noises. As off putting as that may sound, it in fact only helps to make the battle footage that much more visceral, helping the viewer to understand the emotionally devastating day to day existence these brave souls endured. Dialogue is crisp and clean, with Sinise's narration always front and center and mixed extremely well into the overall soundfield, so that foley effects never overwhelm him. Some of the archival sound material, as in some of President Roosevelt's speeches, for example, do sound somewhat compressed, with obviously lower fidelity, but it's not really that bothersome in the long run. As mentioned in the body of the review above, this series is an absolute marvel of sound effects editing, and for those of you attuned to such things, you'll be consistently impressed with the care the sound effects editors have taken with this project.
WWII in HD Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The second disc of this two Blu-ray set contains a few interesting HD supplements:
WWII in HD Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
I've mentioned in some other review that I'm the son of one of "The Greatest Generation," and in fact WWII in HD spends quite a bit of time on various campaigns where my father fought as a battalion commander. My interest, therefore, may have been a bit more personal than the casual viewer. Even with that caveat, I can't imagine many people not being moved and, yes, even occasionally mortified by the stories and footage provided in WWII in HD. This is one of the most outstanding World War II documentaries in recent memory, and it comes very highly recommended.
WWII in HD: Other Seasons
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WWII in HD Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Amazon Blu-ray Deal of the Week: WWII in HD 65% Off (Expired) - August 7, 2011
Amazon's Blu-ray Deal of the Week features the 10-part History Channel series WWII in HD. The two disc set, which spans nearly 8 hours of footage, has been discounted 65% for a price of $13.99. The offer is valid until August 13th.
• Blu-ray Deal of the Week: WWII in HD for $16.99 - January 30, 2011
For its Blu-ray deal of the week, Amazon is offering WWII in HD for $16.99 (57% off MSRP). However, the Blu-ray.com price tracker shows that this eight-hour History channel documentary was even cheaper in late 2010. This price is valid through February 5.
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