For the making of World War II In HD, thousands of hours of colour footage was gathered from around the world, restored, upgraded to HD and edited to form compelling narratives around the experiences of a handful of members of the American military.
This ten part documentary, which originally aired on the History Channel last year, focuses solely on the efforts of the Americans, so, if you’re looking for a comprehensive document of World War II, as the title suggests, you may be disappointed. However, this is an incredibly well made and thoroughly interesting series that is one of the finest documentary series of its kind that I have seen for quite some time.
The episodes are each around forty-five minutes long and they work through the Americans’ war effort chronologically, exploring the initial reluctance to get involved early on and the surge in recruitment following the attacks on Pearl Harbour through to the surrender of the Japanese following the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with some detailed and gruelling accounts of the battles in the Pacific, Northern Africa and mainland Europe in between.
One area thatI was unfamiliar with was the liberation of Alaskan islands that were occupied by the Japanese forces, so that area was particularly fascinating to me.
The choice to focus on the efforts of twelve individuals and tell their stories via recovered diaries and interviews with those of them who are still alive, proved to be an excellent one. It gives the series an incredibly personal tone, as you’re able to connect with individuals and recount the events through their experiences.
It was also great that they recounted the experiences of people of various backgrounds. Journalists, a college sports star, an Austrian immigrant, an American born soldier of Japanese descent, an African American member of the Air Force and a nurse are some of the individuals focussed on.
Overall narration for the series is handled by Gary Sinise, who does an outstanding job and each individual whose accounts are told has their own star name to provide the voiceover work and an impressive array of names such as Rob Lowe, Justin Bartha, LL Cool J, Amy Smart, Ron Livingston and Steve Zahn take part, to name but a few. They’re all excellent, particularly Rob Lowe, whose vocal gravitas delivers emotional weight to his voiceover work. This is most evident as he discusses the mass suicides of Japanese civilians at Saipan.
The images supporting the above scene and much of the other footage throughout the series is extremely graphic and is made all the more disturbing as its real footage. Seeing people executed in the streets, being hung, and seeing the aftermath of the aforementioned mass suicides as well as a woman throw herself from a cliff is quite upsetting and that’s not to mention the extremely graphic nature of wounded, maimed and killed soldiers that play such a prominent role in each episode.
No punches are pulled as the series is uncompromising in presenting very real and graphic images that depict the horrors of war.
The quality of the footage and the way that it’s been edited to provide compelling and personal narratives makes this series an outstanding piece of work. As mentioned at the top, this isn’t a comprehensive account of the war as a whole but it’s an excellent document of the American war effort told via the experiences of those who served. A fascinating, entertaining and extremely well made series that comes highly recommended.
The ten episode set is spread over two 50GB Blu-ray discs and, in terms of picture quality, what’s presented here is rather fantastic given the age of the footage. It’s presented in 1080i rather than 1080p and the quality of the stock footage can be quite hit and miss. Some of the footage is excellent, but other scenes are quite grainy with numerous noticeable visual faults and often the colour is desaturated.
Regardless of the faults, with a lot of the footage it would be unreasonable to overtly criticise the series given the fact that the production team were able to uncover this amount of footage, and to restore it to such a degree is hugely impressive. It should, however, be noted that, if you’re expecting a clean image of the highest quality, you’ll be disappointed.
The quality of the sound more than makes up for the shortcomings of the picture quality. Audio utilises DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and is the set’s finest asset, as it creates a fully immersive audio experience with it seeming as though you’re in the war zone. Even with the bombastic nature of the sound mix, the various narration and voiceovers from the all star cast and the war veterans are clean and crisp and never get drowned out.
Five episodes are on each disc, with disc 2 containing the bonus features. The bonus features lack in both quantity and quality with only three extremely brief documentaries being included. These are titled Character Profiles, Finding the Footage and Preserving the Footage and all three can be viewed in under ten minutes. Given the amount of work that went in to producing the series, a little more of an insight into the process would have been welcome.
Overall, though, the series is a fantastic achievement by all those involved and is essential viewing for anyone at all interested in the subject matter.
World War II: Lost Films is out now on Blu-ray and available from the Den Of Geek Store.