on 31 March 2010
This is watchable DVD set with some interesting footage and informative but somewhat dry commentary. It's a tough call trying to cover the entire war, but it does a half reasonable job. This would be a good set for a student beginning a study of this period or someone with a casual curiousity, but otherwise it doesn't have enough depth. Also some of the footage is not accurate for the particular subjects it covers. For example, clips from the episode covering the early Russian campaign are from much later in the war.
There is a distinct lack of hard facts - no one likes to be swamped with reams of numbers, but for anyone trying to grasp the scale of some of the encounters, there is little to tell the viewer how many troops were involved, casualties, duration of a particular event etc. There is some information like this but it tends to be too unspecific. Many major events are summarised in a few sentences which don't reflect the complexity of them, which gives a too simplistic "Black and White" picture. There was a general ambience of lack of research about most of the dialogoue.
Sadly the series has a strong American bias, which is not unusual and almost expected, but it would be nice if someone produced a series that took a greater account of the war in Russia, which is really where the war in Europe was largely decided. This can make people believe that the decisive actions were all instigated by the Western Allies, when in most cases these took place to relieve pressure on the Russian Front, where the conflict was on a vast scale. A classic illustration is an entire DVD dedicated to D-Day but about 5 minutes of commentary, (largely inaccurate), concerning Kursk, the largest tank battle of all time.
All in all, nothing special for the serious historian, but worth a look as it was on offer :-) Unlike the classic 1970 series "World At War", this DVD is unlikely to ever get viewed a second time.
on 4 December 2015
A fascinating series about WW2 which ideally complements that in the acclaimed ‘World at War’, narrated by Laurence Olivier. Concentrating as much on the political aspects rather than simply the military action. It comprises a highly detailed voiceover commentary with relevant photographic footage in the background. It is more in the manner of a spoken lecture with a background of moving pictures rather than the normal documentary method of showing a visual presentation with a voiceover filling in details. The pictures and the commentary in particular give much additional information over and above that provided in the ‘World at War’. The writers of this series, unlike the earlier programme, had the advantage of being aware of the information available, as a result of Ultra and the cracking of the Enigma code, which was of great benefit to the Allies. There are many references to this intelligence. The result is that the movie footage is archival British Movietone newsreel with a modern narrative – the original commentary being omitted.
The narrative was presented by Peter Dickson, from Belfast, who speaks in a pronounced American style. He also made irritating use of ‘kilometres’ instead of ‘miles’ when very few of the allies used the metric term at that time and even today neither the UK nor the US use it. But his delivery was at least clear and easily understood. There have been comments about grammatical inaccuracies but I only detected one grammatical error. There was also reference to errors in dates, the most notable being that of the attack on Pearl Harbor. In fact the only reference to the date was correct, 7 December 1941.
Comparison with the earlier ‘World at War’ series is difficult. It is the same war with the same campaigns and battles, but many different details presented in the two productions. The most recent documentary on WW2 is ‘World War 2 in Colour’, narrated by Robert Powell, presents other scenes. The three documentaries between them provide a full account of the war. Altogether an entertaining and informative series which can be safely recommended to all.
on 1 February 2013
Must admit, I enjoyed watching this series on TV because anything about WW2 gets my attention. Plus, I much prefer the British narrator on the TV version to the American one on this DVD set. As watchable and entertaining as I find it, i was sorely disappointed when they got a few dates wrong. Firsty, they refer to the attack on Pearl Harbour as happening on December 11th 1941 (when it was December 7th), and HMS Hood was sunk by the Bismarck in 1941 - not in 1940 as the series states. Such discrepancies are unforgivable in a documentary like this and it sours the credibility of the series. But, I enjoy watching it all the same - even if it takes a while to tune my ears into the American narrator. Also, I love how the British narrator in the TV version pronounces 'Stalin' as 'Starleen' lol.
on 14 November 2011
I have not purchased this item, but instead came across it being broadcast by the History Channel, one sleepless night. What I saw in episode 1 moved me to watch two more episodes, and not for the best of reasons. What I saw confirmed what I suspected and moved me to write this review.
I have regrettably seen many poor histories of war in my time, but none quite so poor as this one. Indeed, to call it a history is misleading. Especially when compared with the benchmark of WW2 histories, the Granada series "The World at War". Here's why:
1. Lack of important detail: amazingly, some very important aspects (e.g., the causes of WW1) are glossed over (the narrator cites "increasing tensions"). Key important characters are completely omitted (e.g., Lord Halifax). I suspect insufficient research was done, leading the writer to make broad generalisations.
2. Clear bias: I am all for revisionism in history, as conventional wisdom should always be challenged (witness the various points of view on Capt. Scott's failed polar expedition, for example, and the value this debate has on weighing cultural and social norms). However, the writer descends into invective when it comes to his characterisation of Churchill and and his pre-war role. Instead of stopping at (understandably) questioning the conventional wisdom of Neville being wrong to appease Hitler (there is an interesting contrast to made here with current day situations, especially in Iraq), the writer appears almost to be on a holy crusade to vindicate Neville and vilify Winston. The amount of time this invective is repeated made me wonder if the author was some long lost relative of Neville. This bias continues into the author's characterisations of whole nation states (e.g., Poland is an aggressive, unstable state; Czechoslovakia is an unstable state that stood in the way of a rational peace deal with Germany), to the point where a more cynical person than I might be left wondering if he was a Nazi apologist. Certainly, if I were a relative of a Pole or Czech who had fought for the freedom of their country, I would be insulted by such characterisations.
3. A lack of balance. It seems to me that the author wanted to address some inbalances in conventional wisdoms, which if true is laudable. However, in doing so, balance has been thrown out of the window. Subjects such as Hitler's rise to power through popular vote, the mindset of of the German people, the Austrian and Sudeten Germans' willingness for Anschluss, America's view on the war, are dealt with in very simplistic, one dimensional terms, with the (possibly unintended) result of making it seem that Hitler was very justified in taking such action (a modern day parallel might be to lend uncritical support Russia for invading Georgia). In his rush to address these issues, the opportunity to address important psychosocial issues (with clear benefits for today) has been missed.
4. Clear inaccuracies. Some of the "facts" presented were completely inaccurate. For example, Poland is presented as a country born out of the Versaille Treaty, whereas I always understood it to be a country reborn from Russian occupation by Germany's peace treaty with the Bolsheviks (as was Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and the Ukraine, all of which were reabsorbed by Russia after the Civil war). There is also an inference that Poland was a non-viable, "created" country that was really part of Germany and part of Russia. Again, notwithstanding Poland's long prior history as a nation state in its own right, this view seems to have little foundation, would be insulting to all the Poles I know, and could only be logical if one were seeking to support or excuse Germany's and Russia's invasion and occupation of the country (again, a modern parallel might be to support Russia's effective occupation of Poland since 1945).
5. Overall poor quality. The characterisation of key issues is poor and one dimensional. Language is poor (it does seem like a high school project, for which I would grade it D - must try harder) and some points are repeated often ("Neville was a reasonable man - wouldn't you do the same?", to paraphrase one point), just to make sure you heard it. There are other minor flaws (use of footage of a Hydrogen bomb being detonated, when such weapons were only first tested in 1952) but these pale into insignificance against other issues.
In its favour, there does seem to have been an otherwise genuine attempt to use appropriate footage. I have long tired of seeing incorrect footage (e.g., SS troops clearly in 1944 uniform supposedly representing troops who invaded France in 1940, etc), but cannot verify that this standard has been maintained throughout the series.
In summary, a very poor documentary and one likely to mislead students far more than other more conventional histories. I can understand why some reviewers state this "documentary" was "anti-American" but I doubt that was the author's intention. Frankly, it has been so poorly researched and written, so unbalanced and biased, that it is possible to draw many such conclusions.
One to avoid. I wish I could give it zero stars.
P.S: For the benefit of one US reviewer who seemed to think the Hiroshima and Nagasaki weapons were Hydrogen fusion bombs, no they weren't: they were both fission weapons (one was a Plutonium bomb, the other a Uranium bomb).