The World At War
This review is sponsored by
Details At A Glance
||Time Line Main Menu with Audio and
Synopsis - Episode Summaries
Notes - Brief History of The World At War
Biographies - Major National and Military Leaders
Galleries - Photo
(Not 416 minutes as stated on the packaging)
Cast & Crew
Warner Vision Australia
||Sir Laurence Olivier (Narrator)
||Dual Black Amaray
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame
||English (Dolby Digital 2.0, 224
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio
|Original Aspect Ratio
||Annoying Product Placement
|Action In or After Credits
If you will indulge me for a little while, I would like
reminisce somewhat about The World At War, frankly one of the landmark
television documentaries of all time. I remember back when the series was
first aired on television in Australia as it was always a case of me rushing
from wherever I happened to be at the time in order to watch the series.
I never ever missed an episode and it was a riveting experience for me
as a teenager to sit down and see some of the historic footage that is
included in just about every episode of the series. It did not matter to
me that this was an entire history of the entire war, for that task would
have been virtually impossible to bring to the screen. What mattered to
me was not only to see the historic footage but also to hear the words
of some of the people who were actually involved in those momentous events
of one of the saddest periods of human history.
I have always been an avid reader of World War Two
history books, and one of my favourite tomes at the time this series aired
was The Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich, which I read numerous
times. To actually be able to see and hear the words of people who were
actually there was one of the great television joys of my life. To be able
to see real footage of the horrors inflicted upon the world by The Third
Reich made the horror of the words even more poignant.
To return to the series after the passage of some
twenty five years is something of an experience, for it really does bring
home just how powerful some of the imagery in the footage truly is. It
is very important I feel that everyone take the opportunity to view this
series, as it is an invaluable insight into just how bad World War II was
and hopefully serves as a reminder of how utterly futile and idiotic war
Enough of my reminiscences however and on with the DVD!
If you wish to have an introduction to the series, then I suggest that
you check out Murray's review of Part One
of the series. The episodes making up this two DVD set are:
Episode 16 - Inside The Reich: Germany 1940 - 1944 (52:13)
In 1940, Germans (or at least the German propaganda machine) thought
that Germany had won the war. They had blitzkrieged their way through most
of Western Europe, often with little resistance. After the fall of France
and the British fleeing back across the Channel from Dunkirk, German troops
returned to Germany as victors. Life was pretty good in Germany - at least
until the slow realization that the Allies were not about to surrender
and that Germany was in for a long, hard war. This episode details this
slow realization and the effect it had on the German people as the Third
Reich slowly collapsed under the weight of opposition from within and without.
A rather condensed look at the fall of The Third Reich, including the attempt
on Hitler's life, that perhaps fails to do real justice to the overall
changes in Germany during this time.
Episode 17 - Morning: June 1944 (51:52)
This rather enigmatic title is derived from a speech to the French
people by Winston Churchill after Dunkirk, promising a morning when
the Allies would return to French soil. As such, a rather interesting title
to attach to the episode devoted to perhaps the most pivotal moment of
the war - the morning of 6th June, 1944. The day the combined forces of
the Allies took to a short stretch of water and returned to the European
mainland hell-bent on laying waste to The Third Reich. After all the films
about Operation Overlord, it is interesting to return to the reality of
the planning for and build up of men and material for the operation, when
Britain became home to the most heavy military build-up ever. Naturally,
a nominal one hour television episode is not going to cover everything,
but this is an interesting look at part of what went into the operation.
The need for success is perhaps no more illustrated than by the fact that
within 12 months, the war in Europe was over.
Episode 18 - Occupation : 1940 - 1943 (52:17)
Many nations suffered occupation under the Nazis, but none more
unexpectedly than neutral Holland. The Netherlands was totally unprepared
for the German invasion of 1940 and soon succumbed to the relatively minor
show of power that the Germans made in destroying Rotterdam. Initially
life under the German occupation was not so bad - at least on the surface
- and appeared to continue in some normality but as the cold reality of
Nazi policies became evident, choices had to be made, most especially by
the large Jewish population. Whilst not exactly eulogizing the efforts
of the Underground in Holland, this episode nonetheless demonstrates how
the Underground came into being and the difficulties the entire country
faced in trying to throw off the veil of neutrality it had worn during
World War I as well.
Episode 19 - Pincers: August 1944 (52:05)
After the hard slog to gain a reasonable foothold in mainland Europe,
the Allies found themselves pushing across Europe at a rapid pace, tailing
a fleeing German army. As the push towards the Nazi homeland gained momentum,
the forces started to outstrip their supplies. Inexplicably, the Allied
command brought the advance to a halt somewhat short of the Rhine River.
Had they have pushed on to the Rhine, they would perhaps have sealed German
forces into Germany with no route for escape, and been able to hold the
position during the worst days of winter. Stopping gave the Germans time
to regroup and amass forces for a daring counter-attack aimed at pushing
to Antwerp, thus denying the Allies the vital harbour there and sealing
the British forces under General Bernard Montgomery in a pocket
away from the main Allied force. Attacking at the weakest spot in the Allied
lines, in the Ardennes, the plan almost succeeded as it initially steamrolled
cocky but shocked Allied troops. It ultimately was lost but it was an extremely
close call. Whilst the war in the west was virtually over after this, the
momentum lost by the Allies was not really regained and the push to Berlin
took agonizing months longer than maybe it could have done. We know the
battle today as The Battle Of The Bulge.
It might not be great entertainment per se but this
is essential viewing - extremely interesting, poignant, disturbing, distressing
in parts and fascinating. There are plenty of reasons to indulge in this
series, not the least of which is to remember precisely why we have to
learn the lessons from the appalling loss of life during World War II.
Episode 20 - Genocide: 1933 - 1945 (52:08)
Perhaps the most obvious of episodes as its title says it all. The
basic fundamentals of the Thousand Year Reich are pretty well known - a
pure Germanic race returning to its rightful place as the masters of Europe,
with the sub-human races to be eliminated so as not to create impurities
in the Aryan strain. Heinrich Himmler was given the task of overseeing
this policy and his Schutzstaffel were ruthless in its execution.
This really is a detailing of the growth of the anti-Semitic fundamentals
from forcing Jews to wear the Star of David through to forced re-settlements
in ghettos and executions and then the creation of the massive genocide
camps as exemplified by Dachau and Auschwitz. Whilst this policy was often
thought to be purely Jew-related, it did in fact include other races, notably
Slavs. Still, the Jews copped by far the biggest brunt of the policy and
it should be noted that this episode does contain some very disturbing
Episode 21 - Nemesis: February - May 1945 (51:52)
The Western Front is crumbling under the Allied onslaught and the
Red Army is beating a very hasty advance towards Berlin. It is not helping
that soldiers are abandoning the Eastern front to head west to surrender
in order to avoid capture by the Russians. Time is definitely running out
for the Thousand Year Reich, and the hierarchy knows it. Albert Speer
has already told Hitler that from a manufacturing pint of view, it is all
over but he is one of the only voices preaching the truth to the increasingly
isolated Fuehrer. As the last months of the Reich wind down, as Germany
crumbles under the weight of the Allied advances, Adolf Hitler shows
no regrets. This rather interesting period is well documented by two people
who were there in the bunker with Hitler right up to his suicide: his secretary
and his valet. We even get to hear from the Russian soldier who was given
an almighty honour - to hoist her country's flag above the conquered (or
is that liberated?) city of Berlin
Episode 22 - Japan: 1941 - 1945 (50:44)
With the war over in Europe, Winston Churchill warns that
there is still work to be done in the Pacific. A bunch of fanatics known
as the Japanese are still causing problems. Brought spectacularly into
the broader war by the attack on Pearl Harbour, which resulted in a declaration
of war on Britain and America, the Japanese very much gambled and lost.
At the time, Japan was not the industrial giant it is now and it did not
have the capacity to sustain a long, drawn-out war. The people had been
conditioned since birth about the Emperor (a divine being) and the invincibility
of their country. The military, who basically ran the country, knew very
differently. They knew that if Britain and the United States did not sue
for peace very early after Pearl Harbour, they had no chance of winning
the war. Obviously Britain and the United States did not sue for peace
and what followed from mid-1942 was the slow but inexorable termination
of the Japanese war effort - only forestalled by the sheer fanaticism of
its soldiers who in general would die rather than be captured. This episode
details in broad terms the slow defeat of Japan starting from the most
crucial of battles in the Pacific - Midway.
Episode 23 - Pacific: February 1942 - July 1945 (50:32)
The Japanese might have been unable to sustain a prolonged war,
but they sure made life very difficult for the United States forces. Spread
over a vast ocean, the Americans had to island-hop their way to Japan and
did so along two broad fronts: from the South East through the Philippines
with forces under the command of General Douglas MacArthur and from
the East through the island chains with forces under the command of Admiral
Chester Nimitz. Initial planning had the island of Tarawa as the
first target for the latter and the cocky Americans thought that they would
be able to waltz in and take over this minuscule island without much trouble.
They soon found out that they would be fighting for every foot all the
way to Tokyo as the relatively small garrison on the island inflicted significant
losses on the Americans. The story was the same all the way across the
Pacific as the Americans pushed towards Saipan, Iwo Jima and Okinawa -
important as they provided the bomber bases from which the massive raids
on Japanese cities could be launched.
I know it has been said before but it has to be repeated
- we are talking about a television series made in 1974 using extensive
original material dating from the mid 1930s through to 1945, with interview
material recorded in the early 1970s. As a result, there is enormous variety
in the quality on offer in the transfer. Add to that the fact that the
graphics used are fairly ordinary and plain by current standards.
Since it was made for television, and given that
the archive material is as old as it is, the transfer is of course presented
in Full Frame format that is equally obviously not 16x9 enhanced.
To be honest, given the wide variety of source material
on offer here, we really should not be too concerned by conventional thoughts
of sharpness, detail and clarity. Rather, we should be more concerned that
the varied material has been presented in such a way as to maximize the
visual impact of the transfer. Unfortunately, that may not be the case
here. Much of the material would seem to be very unrestored and so there
are plenty of problems therein. Overall, we run the gamut from almost non-existent
definition and clarity, with lousy shadow detail, through to actual better-than-expected
definition, shadow detail and clarity. Most of the material demonstrates
reasonable enough detail and definition, with average shadow detail. Clarity
is not great in general, with plenty of grain on offer in a lot of the
material, which does get really distracting. There would appear to be some
low level noise problems at times.
Most of the programming is black and white archive
footage with the interview material in colour. However, the last two episodes
in this package contained more colour footage from the United States. The
archival footage is pretty much all over the place in terms of colour.
Some material is quite decent with nice tones, whilst other material is
quite poor with basically various shades of murky grey on offer. Given
that much of the footage was shot in extreme circumstances, and the average
quality of the film stock available was probably not that terrific, this
is not unexpected. What is unexpected is that the interview material does
not display great colour and is a little undersaturated throughout. The
colour footage from the war displays the general lack of quality expected
in such footage, with colours being rather poorly rendered.
There does not appear to be any significant MPEG
artefacts in the transfer, although in some instances these could be well
hidden by what has been presumed to be heavy grain. There is nothing significant
in the way of film-to-video artefacts, just the odd instance of aliasing
that is barely noticeable. However, there are obviously tons and tons of
film artefacts on offer here and it is interesting to ponder whether the
material would have been restored more (to eliminate more of these) had
the series been made now, rather than 27 years ago. At times I was a little
surprised by the extent of the film artefacts on footage that I had seen
before, but I really would rather see the footage with the artefacts rather
than not see it at all.
The DVDs are presumably Dual
Layer formatted since there is no obvious layer change noted
during the programming. Presumably there are two episodes per layer on
Video Ratings Summary
There is just the one soundtrack on offer on the DVD,
being an English Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. This principally comprises
the narration from Sir Laurence Olivier with sound effects and music
added for effect. There are also speeches from some of the principal players
of the War.
The narration comes up well in the soundtrack and
is easy to understand. The speeches are similarly generally easy to understand.
There appeared to be some minor issues with audio sync in the transfer
at times - this is most notable during some of the interview sequences.
The original music score comes from Carl Davis,
and is perhaps highlighted by the very memorable theme tune, which really
does evoke a lot of memories of the days when this was broadcast on television.
In general, the score is decently supportive of the programming, even to
the extent of the excellent use of silence at times.
Basically you can forget about the technicalities
of the soundtrack. This is designed purely to convey the narration and
other dialogue, which it does well enough. There is no real problem at
all with the soundtrack, even though it is a fairly basic. It is free of
any significant distortion, surround channel use and bass channel use.
Audio Ratings Summary
|Surround Channel Use
Well at least there is an effort made, but frankly it
is hardly worth the effort. This is one of those instances where the extras
simply cannot really do any justice to the programming or the events and
The Time Line Menu is quite a nifty idea, as it demonstrates
the relationship of each particular episode to the overall war. It does
mean however that you need to know the name of the episode you want to
watch in order to select the right one (only valid selections for the DVD
playing can be highlighted though), and they are not listed in episode
order so if you miss the introduction to the menu, you might have difficulty
in selecting the episodes in the right sequence if you want to so watch
them. It does take a little while to get the hang of the menu. There is
some decent introductory animation and audio enhancement.
Synopsis - Episode Summaries
Provides a very short summary of each episode.
Notes - Brief History of The World At War
A brief, five page, history of the series itself, which
in all honesty could have been left off the package.
Biographies - Major National and Military Leaders
Given that these comprise single page bios for 17 of
the major political and military leaders of the main combatants, with a
photo of each to go with it, one does have to question whether it was a
worthwhile exercise. After all, how exactly do you condense the entire
lives of some of the major figures of the Twentieth Century into so little
space and still be meaningful? On the balance of things, pretty well meaningless
and of no real value at all.
Links to the sites of the series and the Imperial War
Galleries - Photos
Since these at best comprise two or three photos per
episode, they once again hardly rate on the worthiness scale. However,
they do thankfully have some annotation!
As far as we have been able to ascertain, there are
no censorship issues with this title.
R4 vs R1
As far as we have been able to ascertain, there has
been no release of this programming in Region 1.
The World At War provided an excellent broad
scale overview of the Second World War when first aired and still is virtually
unexcelled in all the years since. Forget the technical qualities on offer
here, for there is little that an excellent transfer can do with some marginal
source material. What you must at all times focus on is the content and
I sincerely believe that this is an essential purchase for any person with
children, for this probably provides the best introduction to a sorry era
in the world's history that we are likely to see. This is the sort of stuff
that shows just how great an educational tool DVD can be. However, the
serious downer is the overall cost of acquiring not just each volume of
the series but the entire series itself. In this instance, the application
of the PG rating may be warranted in strict terms, but I feel the BBFC
approach of allowing this an Exempt rating is a far more logical approach.
Whilst some of the imagery is disturbing, it should nonetheless
be seen by every generation as a reminder of the sheer bloody inhumanity
that lurks in what is supposed to be the most intelligent species on the
© Ian Morris (have
a laugh, check out the bio)
31st March, 2001
||Pioneer DV-515; S-video output
||Sony Trinitron Wega 80cm. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD
version of Video Essentials.
||Yamaha RXV-795. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version
of Video Essentials.
||Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears
EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL