The World At War

Part Three

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Details At A Glance

Category Documentary Time Line Main Menu with Audio and Animation 
Synopsis - Episode Summaries 
Notes - Brief History of The World At War
Biographies - Major National and Military Leaders 
Web Link 
Galleries - Photo
Year Released 1974
Running Time
413:49 minutes 
(Not 416 minutes as stated on the packaging) 
RSDL/Flipper Dual Layered
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 1,2,3,4,5,6 Director Various
Warner Vision Australia
Starring Sir Laurence Olivier (Narrator)
Case Dual Black Amaray
RPI $59.95 Music Carl Davis

Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English (Dolby Digital 2.0, 224 Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1
Macrovision ?Yes Smoking Yes
Subtitles None Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    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 really is.

   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:

    Disc 1

    Disc 2     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.

Transfer Quality


    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 both DVDs.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-to-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    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
Audio Sync
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 people involved.


    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.

Web Link

    Links to the sites of the series and the Imperial War Museum.

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 planet.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris (have a laugh, check out the bio)
31st March, 2001

Review Equipment
DVD Pioneer DV-515; S-video output
Display Sony Trinitron Wega 80cm. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Audio Decoder Built in
Amplification Yamaha RXV-795. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Speakers Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL