on 27 November 2002
In 1970, producer Jeremy Issacs wanted to create the " definitive televisual history of the Second World War" that "should balance out the 'view from the top' with the 'view from the bottom'". The World at War (TWaW) achieved this mammoth task and more, collecting nearly a million feet of interview and location film.
Preserved indefinitely on DVD format (on 10 discs), this series, as other reviewers have already commented, is impressive (to say the least). Added gravitas is provided by the great Sir Laurence Olivier as narrator. There seems no need to re-iterate the praise this DVD very much deserves/
The full episode contents of the DVD special edition are as follows:
* The Making of World at War (exclusive to DVD)
* A New Germany : 1933 - 1939
* Distant War : 1939 - 1940
* France Falls : May - June 1940
* Alone in Britain : May 1940 - June 1941
* Barbarossa : June - Dec 1941
* Banzai - Japan Strikes
* On Our Way - America Enters The War
* Desert - The War in North Africa
* Redstar - The Soviet Union : 1941 - 1943
* Whirlwind - Bombing Germany : September 1939 - April 1944
* Tough Old Gut
* It's a Lovely Day Tomorrow
* Home Fires
* Inside the Reich : Germany 1940 - 1944
* Japan 1941-45
* The Bomb
* Secretary to Hitler
* Who Won World War II?
* Hitler's Germany: 1933 - 1939
* Hitler's Germany: 1939 - 1945
* The Two Deaths of Hitler
* The Final Solution - Auschwitz Part 1
* The Final Solution - Auschwitz Part 2
Not only for the specialist or enthusiast, this is now a crucial collection of material that the forthcoming generations who should learn about their ancestors and the value of peace. This is a non-patronising series that is a must for every DVD collection.
on 6 September 2012
I read all the reviews above and opted to buy the blu-ray version. Obviously anyone reading this knows what an incredible ground breaking series this is. I am simply looking at the Blu-ray version. The new edition is presented in fantastic boxset, with amazing sound and extras.
The cropping issue is just so difficult not to notice. I found it a continual distraction. Especially in each an every interview, with chins and tops of heads missing. The quality of the picture is fantastic with amazing clarity. Why oh why did they have to do a hatchet job and cut what looks like about a 3rd out of the picture. SURELY they could have released with both original 4:3 and 16:9 options on the Blu-ray. Supposedly the makers claim you are just losing "non-important" material. But even on opening scene of the devastated french town I had to cringe when I saw how tops of buildings were cropped and the wrecked car seemed awkwardly cramped into the screen.
I wouldnt consider myself a 4:3 "purist" and in fact am more of a 16:9 blu-ray enthusiast. I awaited keanly for the Blu-ray release. I read the reviews and kept my fingers croosed I wouldnt notice the cropping. However now I have to say I am reconsidering whether to sell the blu-ray in favour of the DVD. I am going to buy the 2004 DVD special edition now and compare them side to side. I think as long as the DVD looks acceptable I will probably switch to this. After all this is a historical documentary NOT a hollywood movie. Hence I favour lower def but with the complete documentary non-cropped. I hope seriously the makers read these reviews and consider using the high def material they have to re-issue a 4:3 version in blu-ray, although sadly I doubt it. I think the high def/cropping will be a 50/50 dividing issue for most people. Shame the program makers made us all have to make this choice! Otherwise this would have been an ultimate edition.
on 6 December 2000
The World at War is regarded as one of the foremost documentaries made about World War 2. The final volume is made up of the "Special Presentations" which were made after the success of the original series.
As with the other DVD's in the series the original programmes are supplemented with background information and photographs which lead to a fuller understanding of the subject.
The episodes on "Hitler's Germany" and "The Two Deaths of Hitler" are excellent pieces of journalism which cover their respective areas comprehensively.
However, it is the final episodes of this DVD which stand out. The story of "The Final Solution" is told in 2 parts. The first provides detail on the growth of Nazi racial doctrines from the early days & the ideals of the SS through to Poland being annexed and the ghettos. This information is well presented and is crucial for a full understanding of the material contained in the second part. This goes on to describe in detail how a policy of oppression spiralled out of control into state approved mass execution which was only stopped by the liberation of the concentration camps by the Allies. These two programmes are still thought by many to be the most complete and thorough record of these events ever presented in a TV documentary and worthy of the attention of anyone who is interested in this period in history.
It does not seem appropriate to wrap this review up using the usual langauge of praise. However if the topic is of interest, then this is an invaluable source of information.
on 27 December 2005
The World at War (30th Anniversary Ed.) has 26 films that give a unique insight into the war as well as 8 presentations. The films have 3 elements. The archive black and white film runs for the majority of the programmes, the interviews of people who survived and lastly the narration of the story of WW2. Compared to modern series of WW2 these films have several attractions: Thoroughness, there are no general outlines of events with the whole war packed into 50mins. There are no actors. The narration is first rate and well researched. There is originality, even if you’ve read books on WW2 you will still find interest here, things you didn’t know, a memory, idea or opinion that makes you think.
These films portray the horrors of war with executions, concentration camps and bodies lying. This is war in its vulgarity. It is something that makes you feel sad. It also shows the form of this war in infantry, naval, aerial combat, and tank warfare to name a few. People interested in computer simulations of this period may be interested to see what these sims are aiming for. I found the main 26 episodes to be a great insight into WW2. The additional 8 presentations I didn’t like so much. This was mainly due to repetition. Even with my memory I recall previous interviews and archive scenes that were on the original series. This takes some of the originality away. If the 8 presentations are watched in isolation then this is fine. I did like some of the presentations and they are well researched, its just after the original I found them a little disappointing. I did find some trivial dislikes of the DVD package: The making of the series as the first film - this should be at the end. Anything narrated has a low signal level whereas music or explosions has a high signal level, this might be great for a cinema but I can hardly hear whats said. When you highlight the episode you want it changes colour but not by much. These things pale into insignificance compared to the towering achievement of the series. If you want a glimpse of what WW2 was like then this is a classic.
Depth of research
Full of archive film of the conflict
Interviews with large section of survivors
Repetition in later presentations
When first made many of the people directly involved at high level were still alive and their views, with hindsight, are fascinating. Many ordinary people, from all the countries involved (except USSR - behind the Iron Curtain at the time) give personal accounts. Not a boring history, this wonderful programme gives a clear view of the build up to, the progress of and the problems after the War that had a huge impact on my parents generation. Look at the "men" involved. 19 - 20 year olds - its unimaginable today. For any one who has only a limited idea of what went on, this is very revealing and instructive without being in any way like a school lesson. To be able to watch an episode whenever you want to is a joy and this quality of production goes to show what drivel we are now being fed.
It also gives an intriguing insight into why post war Europe has become what it now is and the whole film is, in my view, probably the most unbiased account you will get of such an event.
It stands, shoulder to shoulder, with "The Great War" which is another epic production this time covering World War 1 and produced by the BBC. Both should be compulsory viewing for schools.
on 4 December 2006
Will you ever be able to forget those haunting first bars of the theme song and the main title in flames? Or the various people (including the, it looks like, gaunt Jewish girl) immediately after the first credits?
I saw it first in the late seventies/early eighties when it was broadcasted in South Africa, and the unpretentious, though sometimes somewhat biaised views of the real people featured in the series struck a sensive chord within me. I've never been able to forget, and having the opportunity to actually own the whole series filled me with excitement - now able to watch it over and over again, making the whole series a part of my "general knowledge".
If it was possible to give the series six stars for excellence, I would have considered seven stars. As it is, I believe it is the best series on the Second World War ever developed and I cannot recommend it enough to all prospective buyers.
There are really two main considerations you need to balance over whether the new restored version of The World at War is worth purchasing on Blu-ray - on the one hand is the question of it being pan-and-scanned to fill 16:9 televisions, on the other is the fact that it is one of the most important and brilliantly-made documentary series you'll ever see.
On the question of the reformatting of the original 4:3 picture to widescreen, well the justifications made by the DVD distributor are spurious. If people really want to see the image fit the screen, let them do what they already do themselves and stretch it to fit. It's a horrible distortion of the image, but apparently a lot of people can't even notice the problem and don't particularly care. For those who do care, the cropping the top and bottom of the image by the DVD producers is nothing less than vandalism. Admittedly, before watching the new widescreen presentation, assured that it was carefully handled, I was prepared to make an exception to the Original Aspect Ratio only rule. After all, this is a series that consisting largely of talking heads and documentary footage that was hardly cinematographically composed. Well, I was wrong - the cropping is obvious and blatant, cutting the tops off buildings and heads. Framing isn't carefully done and it can't be. When there are captions on the screen (the original shaky captions, which suggests moreover that it's the original video masters that have been restored rather than the series being remastered from the original source materials), the image tilts down to the lower part of the screen, causing severe cropping at the top. The attempts to re-frame are obvious and obtrusive, the movement noticeable even as it tries to take in the credits at the end of an episode.
On the other hand, does any of this really take away from the quality of the series? The image has certainly been butchered, but that shouldn't prevent anyone from watching one of the most important documentary series ever made. Spread across 26 episodes, on 9 Blu-ray discs, The World at War is an extensive, comprehensive and accessible look at one of the most defining events in the history of the modern world, one that captures the scale of the whole undertaking, looking at the underlying causes, the social and political context, and also the almost inconceivable cost of the war in monetary as well as in human terms. But it also reminds us that there was much more to WWII than the Holocaust and the war in Western Europe, and that the impact was far-reaching, and still has an impact on many aspects of the world we live in today - for better and for worse.
There are certainly gaps and questionable editorial decisions that place curious emphasis on some aspects and cause omission and imbalance in others, but this is a war that can be viewed in many different ways, and it will no doubt be constantly re-evaluated with the passing of time. What makes The World at War so important however are the first-hand eye-witness accounts of many of the key figures still alive around the time the series was made in the early seventies, testimonies not only from important political players, but also from ordinary people from all parts of the world who had to endure something that we can now scarcely imagine. As the years go by, that testimony is invaluable, as is this documentary into the defining years of the 20th century, which should be compulsory viewing for everyone, politicians and world leaders included.
The restored series looks exceptionally good on Blu-ray, at least as well as the quality as the original source materials allow. Those materials however have not been re-sourced - a meticulous reconstruction of such a huge series would obviously be impractical and costly - but the original series masters have clearly been extensively cleaned-up and they look quite good. It's pleasing also to see that the whole series has been given optional English HOH subtitles. The original materials perhaps don't quite have the full High-Definition resolution to merit a Blu-ray release, and consequently I doubt that there's a significant difference in quality between this and the standard DVD edition. It is worth having however for the extra materials and features that are included on the set.
One of those extra features covers the restoration and a great deal of care and attention has gone into making the series look as good as it possibly can, but there is no justification for the cropping of the image. While that decision is regrettable however, it doesn't unduly ruin the series or its purpose. If you're concerned about the messing around with the aspect ratio and the pointless surround remix, go back and look for the original DVD release, but whatever you do, you should own this series.
The World at War never looked better. Digital re-mastering has made archive footage and colour interviews appear freshly-minted, and certainly justifies the upgrade if you already own the series on video. The sheer, moving quality of this documentary continues to deliver a powerful message over 30 years after it was made. The extra material is more than enough for the die-hard war documentary watcher. And it all takes up less room than one of those old plastic double video packs. Every world leader should be given a copy of this magnificent, essential series, and made to watch it before deciding on launching the world into another conflict.
There are so many reviews of this superlative series already, I know, but I just love it so much I have to share my ha'porth.
On account of David Attenborough's Life series, and sundry other projects he commissioned, such as Civilisation, I tend to think of the BBC when I think of 'sledgehammer' docs. The standard format for these was 13 hour long episodes. Thames television boldly and wisely followed producer Jeremy Isaac's plan, and doubled that, making The World At War a 26 episode extravaganza. Given the hugeness of the subject, it's great they did. And as is pointed out elsewhere, the series was ultimately augmented by a further six hours, giving a whopping 32 episodes/hours in total (actually each episode is actually just over 50 minutes, giving the original 26 episode series a total of approx 22 1/2 hrs).
I've watched the series a number of times now, and I never tire of it. The balance of archival footage and interviews (with those involved, rather than academics or other pundits*), the expertly constructed sound track and the wonderfully somber theme music, a well-written narrative delivered with suitable gravitas by Larry Olivier, and the terrifically balanced range of talking heads (from ordinary civilians and troops to top brass and politicians), it's all as good as could be hoped for, and better than one is perhaps used to seeing. The way topics are covered is roughly chronological, but sometimes topics, e.g. much that relates to Japan, get bunched together, such that the timelines get stretched or compressed. But considering the huge diffiliculties in telling this epic story, it's done with tremendous brio.
As I write this I'm midway through watching the series for the fifth or sixth time, and I imagine I'll watch it again (and again) at some point. I think seeing the whole series should be a mandatory part of everyone's schooling. Remembering the cataclysmic convulsions of this terrible time is something we should be constantly striving for, so as to not allow ourselves to slide into such situations again.
* There are one or two such talking heads, e.g. a long haired Stephen Ambrose, in episode 25.
on 10 December 2013
There is no better TV documentary telling the extraordinary story of the Second World War like this Thames Television production from 1973. It has for so long been a regular feature on our TV screens that surely just about everybody in Britain with access to a television must have least watched a couple of episodes in their lifetimes. In time I bought `The World at War' with its stunning musical introduction feature, all on DVD. However, the clumsy menu was so off-putting when trying to find a particular episode on its particular disc that I tended to put it all to one side, and watch the broadcasts instead.
Seeing that this prized compilation had been revivified and Blu-rayed at a reasonable price, I thought I should send for it. I read a number of reviews that were mostly favourable with some concerns expressed about the film clips being cropped from 4:3 to match the current video aspect of the 16:9 of our flat screen TV's. Personally, I don't find this too off-putting: Close-ups become really close up, but distance shots of battles etc. are quite acceptable to this viewer. More positively, the images are much sharper, the colours more vibrant, and the sounds vastly improved. The menu is much more logical and user friendlier than before, as a welcome bonus.
I'm glad I bought this wonderful series in this updated form, and would heartily recommend it to history buffs and army barmy nuts everywhere.