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The World at War-Part 2 (1974)
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Details At A Glance
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Notes-Brief History Of The World At War
Year Of Production
415:32 (Case: 432)
Dual Disc Set
|Cast & Crew
NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.
If you haven't already read my review for The World At War - Part 1, then I suggest you do so before proceeding with this, as it contains all of my general comments about the series. Part 2 continues this fine 1970s documentary series with another 7 hours of material.
Part 2, Disc 1
Part 2, Disc 2
- Episode 8. Desert - The War in North Africa (1940 - 1943) (52:25 minutes)
Churchill desperately needed some good news after the string of total defeats that characterised the early years of the war. Unable to pick a fight anywhere on the continent, he decided to do so in Northern Africa where the Italians were trying to conquer themselves an empire. Early results were remarkably good and demonstrated that the average Italian really didn't relish the reality of war. This situation changed suddenly when the German Afrika Korps under Rommel moved in to essentially take over from the Italians. Their development of modern, disciplined tank battle tactics were too much for the British, who were forced into fast retreat. Tobruk remained a Commonwealth stronghold during the first year of the battle, probably because it wasn't defended by the British. Its ANZAC troops get a single mention, but nothing about the Rats of Tobruk (unfortunately, this is another case of the Anglo-centric nature of the series). In any case, after the British took over the town's defense during the second year they lost it too. The fallback continued to El Alamein where final British resolve and the nature of the terrain broke the German army's back.
I find this campaign to be quite fascinating, probably because of the free ranging nature of the tank battles that characterised it. It is well explained in this episode.
- Episode 9. Stalingrad (June 1942 - February 1943) (51:51 minutes)
Here we are, back in the nightmare of the Russian campaign. More useless slaughter, more torturing weather and more refusal on the part of Hitler to accept reality. The German army was finally defeated in the second year of their Russian campaign. Over a million of their soldiers taken as prisoners of war by the Russians didn't survive. Could it have been different? Could it have been worse? Let's hope it never happens again.
- Episode 10. Wolfpack U-Boats in the Atlantic (1939 - 1944) (51:50 minutes)
Once Admiral Doenitz was given command of the German navy he had an opportunity to test his theories concerning the waging of large-scale submarine warfare on the merchant shipping bringing supplies to the UK. The theory was fine, and the resources Germany brought to the battle were formidable. However, by the time it all started to work Allied anti-submarine warfare had developed to the point where the hunters became the hunted. I personally found this to be one of the more disappointing episodes of the series. I don't know exactly why this was the case - perhaps (by necessity) it relied on contrived newsreel footage that was not directly related to the action being described.
- Episode 11. Red Star - The Soviet Union (1941 - 1943) (52:49 minutes)
What, more of the Russian campaign? Haven't we all had our cheery moods ruined enough for one week? Perhaps the only way the Russians could have defeated Germany was by having a leadership as ruthless as the Nazis. The Russian people were truly to know the meaning of "total war" as their entire lives and country were turned to the job of defense. Individuals counted for nothing and terror was employed by the Communists as a means of keeping civilians and soldiers in line. The cost was monumental - the show quotes the number of 20 million Russian dead - but the invincible German army was eventually beaten back.
- Episode 12. Whirlwind - Bombing Germany (September 1939 - April 1944) (52:10 minutes)
After the Battle of Britain, the Allies began counter-attacking by launching ever more massive bombing raids of their own. With British by night and Americans by day, thousand-bomber raids began to flatten German cities. Again, I found the content of this episode to be a little light on and disappointing. Perhaps some more discussion on technical aeronautical or navigational topics could have provided interest. In the event there was quite a lot of dialogue with little real direction.
The atrocities perpetrated by members of the Axis forces can be explained and understood - they were initiated by plainly evil men with ideologies based on hatred, and the perpetrators were punished accordingly wherever possible. But how evil was the strategy of carpet bombing employed against Germany? How much did it contribute to shortening the war? Should "the good guys" have rained such horror on the common German civilian who was just starting to realise what was going on with their leadership? Do we, or I, have the right to judge from our comfortable position over 50 years on? I don't have answers to these questions. Perhaps there never were any answers - that's just what happens in a state of total war against a ruthless enemy.
- Episode 13. Tough Old Gut (50:08 minutes)
The Americans, who seemed to know something about fighting a war, wanted to invade the continent from France and work eastwards. However the British, and Churchill in particular, were convinced that if they struck through Italy they could quickly move northwards into the heart of Germany. They got the chance to test their theory, with unfortunate results. Apparently without too much thought about terrain or support, the Allied forces landed in the south and, after the initially soft resistance from the Italian forces, came upon the hard line of German defense. Yet again, the senior British military commanders displayed their apparently 19th century ideas of warfare. The situation was only relieved with further landings and significant reinforcements, after which Rome fell without a gunshot. This is another good episode, with a strong narrative helped along by a fundamentally interesting story. It also features the senseless obliteration of a medieval monastery incorrectly believed by the Allies to contain a German garrison. Did I mention that this series continually stresses the futility of war?
- Episode 14. It's A Lovely Day Tomorrow - Burma (1942 - 1943) (52:07 minutes)
Just for a change from the agony of Europe we have a brief escape to the jungles of Burma (sorry, that's Myanmar, one of those little former colonies I referred to in my review for Part 1). Burma provided the buffer between the Japanese army and India, the jewel in the crown of the British Empire, and as a result became a very different kind of battleground. The Japanese had learnt how to use the jungle to their advantage and quickly pushed the British back to the Indian border. Very slowly the British discovered those same jungle tactics and eventually pushed the Japanese back. The fighting was a hard, muddy slog. This episode is an interesting description of the monsoonal world the soldiers found themselves in.
- Episode 15. Home Fires - Britain (1940 - 1944) (52:12 minutes)
This is a worthwhile little diversion into the lifestyle of the British population during the war. The British Isles were in a state of virtual siege, and were forced to adapt every aspect of their lives to the fight. This was obviously a very different experience to the total war suffered by the Russian population, but all-embracing nonetheless. No doubt it took all of the eccentricity of the Pommy character to come through it all with a bit of a smile.
Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.
It is important to bear in mind the nature of the material on show here. The majority of pictures are from original newsreel, propaganda and war film sources. This is supplemented by a large number of modern (ie 1970s) personal interviews and the odd modern scenic reference shot. A number of simple animated graphics, largely based on large-scale European and Pacific maps are also used. The quality of the material varies from the (rarely) terrible to the (slightly less rarely) excellent. Even the modern photography varies considerably, presumably because of the large number of filmmakers involved and the wide range of conditions and equipment with which they had to work. We can be quite relieved, however, that all of the footage was shot on film, rather than on video tape, so we never have to suffer through horrible video induced artefacts.
Being made for television, the disc is presented in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Even if this weren't the case, so much of the archival footage was shot in this format that it would have been senseless to attempt anything else.
I felt that the video quality on Disc 1 was of considerably lesser quality than that of previous episodes, and any other discs for that matter. The explanation for this relates entirely to the original newsreel sources for these particular episodes. The Italians obviously couldn't compete with the Germans when it came to their photographic expertise, and it shows in every scene involving the Italian army in Africa. I've already commented on the quality of Russian film footage in my review for Part 1, and there is little improvement here. Finally, what little original footage exists of U-boats and their prey tends by necessity to be blurred, jumpy and poorly lit.
Of course these comments apply to the original film footage - the modern footage throughout Part 2 is of a similar standard to that in Part 1. Furthermore, the original footage on Disc 2 returns to the general quality level set by Part 1.
The involvement of the Americans in the Italian campaign introduces colour footage of the war (the Yanks just had to have their war in colour!). Of course, all of the difficulties that face any war photographer are in evidence here, so that colours are well undersaturated and graininess seems to be enhanced.
I've already commented on the general nature of the footage. Film artefacts are, of course, abundant, but much less than expected given the age and nature of the material. I couldn't detect any MPEG compression problems, but in the midst of all the other marks they might be hard to find. All in all I got the impression of a quite competent transfer. This is commendable given the sheer volume of material on each disc and the need for heavy compression.
Although all the discs are formatted as dual layered (with 7 hours per disc, I'd hope so!), I never found the layer changes. I would have guessed they were placed at the end of episodes.
Video Ratings Summary
The soundtracks are made up of four distinct components: Lawrence Olivier's commentary, sound effects dubbed over the top of original film footage, modern personal interviews and some occasional original recordings of political leaders or entertainers. Olivier's voice is nigh on perfect for the job, providing a level of authority that sets the series apart from many others. He is able to turn a single word or phrase in such a way as to make the horror of what he is describing just a little more real for the viewer. The sound effects are so natural that you simply accept them as being real (perhaps some are).
There is only a single audio track. The bulk of the sound is modern, and is almost virtually totally free from noise. The interviews exhibit a mild style of hollowness that reflect their recording in living rooms rather than professional studios, but you would have to be very picky to notice. I found no audio sync problems.
The music is by Carl Davis, and I must say it brought back a flood of memories from the time when the series was first broadcast here. I was too young to either view or understand it so that the sound used to waft through to my bedroom from the family room where Dad would be watching it. It is simple but captures well enough the mood of the series.
The impact of the series is through pictures and the spoken word. There is no need or use made of the surround channels or the subwoofer.
Audio Ratings Summary
|Surround Channel Use|
Time Line Menu The menu is ingeniously designed in the form of a time line, with each episode represented by a bar showing its chronological relationship to the war itself and to the other episodes. The menu is common across all discs, and all episodes are shown even though only a small number would be accessible on the disc in the player. It takes a little while to get the hang of it all, but after 32 hours and 34 episodes you'll have well and truly mastered it.
Photo Galleries Each episode is presented with its own sub-menu, from which a small selection of relevant archival photographs can be accessed. The selections are not large, typically comprising only two photographs. For this reason I don't consider them to be of huge value, although I was fascinated to see Hitler and Chamberlain's entire Munich Agreement (the "Peace In Our Time" agreement) included, complete with signatures.
Insert Points Each episode's sub-menu also provides the viewer with the ability to jump directly to points of particular interest within the episode, generally under the headings of "Speeches and Quotes", "Graphics" and "Songs and Poems". This facility, again limited, could nevertheless be useful for history students searching for some particular item.
Episode Summaries Provides a short summary of each episode in turn.
Brief History of The World At War A history of the series itself, not of the world's wars. I think this is pretty much an opportunity for the series' makers to brag a little about their achievement.
Biographies of Major National and Military Leaders Painfully brief biographies of 17 of the major political and military leaders from the US, UK, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia. Handy if you've never heard of Douglas MacArthur or Joseph Stalin, but if that's the case you need a serious review of your history lessons!
Web Link Links to the sites of the series and the Imperial War Museum.
R4 vs R1
NOTE: To view
non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually
also NTSC compatible.
The discs have multi-zone coding. I could find no reference to the series either for sale or reviewed in the US, so I must assume that we have the definitive product available here.
This series provides an excellent overview of the story of the Second World War. The quality of presentation on disc is probably as good as we will ever see of this material. Perhaps its greatest strength is the obvious humanity it brings to the topic without ever making moral comment on the subject material. I tended to find Part 2 slightly less satisfying than Part 1, but it certainly still contains several important battles and other aspects of the war.
© Murray Glase (read my bio)
Monday, February 05, 2001
|DVD||Toshiba SD-K310, using S-Video output|
|Display||Pioneer SD-T43W1 (125cm).
Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver.
Calibrated with Video Essentials.
|Speakers||Richter Wizard (front), Jamo SAT150 (rear), Yamaha YST-SW120 (subwoofer)|
Anthony H (read my bio)