Customer Review

215 of 229 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Butchered, but don't let that put you off, 25 Oct. 2010
This review is from: The World At War: The Ultimate Restored 40th Anniversary Edition [Blu-ray] [1973] [Region Free] (Blu-ray)
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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.
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Tracked by 4 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 19 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 25 Nov 2010 21:41:26 GMT
Sami says:
Thanks for letting us know about the cropping!

Posted on 16 Dec 2010 12:03:44 GMT
Gareth Smyth says:
Thanks very much, I was about to recommend to a friend. Unfortunately the earlier box set, which I have, is now selling second-hand at a pretty high price.

As you say, a great series. Shows you how far TV has deteriorated since it was made.

Posted on 30 Jan 2011 23:46:33 GMT
Excellent, extremely helpful review. Many thanks!

In reply to an earlier post on 2 Feb 2011 23:11:20 GMT
DM Bunny says:
Have to say I bought this blu-ray and i'm delighted with both the picture and sound and nobody moans more than me :)

Posted on 21 Feb 2011 18:01:37 GMT
Thanks for this review and the info regarding the butchered image. It beggers belief that the BBC have agreed to this just to pander to the morons who cannot toggle their remore control from 16:9 to 4:3 aspect ratio. What next I wonder - "The World At War in 3D"! A classic example of the dumbing down of society. That the BBC should be party to it is shameful.

In reply to an earlier post on 23 Feb 2011 15:44:16 GMT
Keris Nine says:
The BBC had nothing to do with the series - it was made by Thames Television. Your point however is still valid, since Jeremy Isaacs, the original producer of the series was involved in this release and presumably allowed it to be reformatted in this way.

In reply to an earlier post on 23 Feb 2011 16:05:57 GMT
My apologies. I somehow always assume that this series was a BBC production! Hard to believe that there was once a time when independent television produced such great documentaries.

In reply to an earlier post on 23 Feb 2011 16:19:31 GMT
DM Bunny says:
Was done by Thames Television long since defunct and the dvd/blu-ray production and distribution is handled by Fremantle Media who were also responsible for the blu-ray widescreen adaptation. I repeat, I reckon they did a great job and would like to see everyone actually watch it before wading in to criticise it before seeing it. It is not a hatchet job. Too many people come in here simply to criticise because it's fashionable to do so after reading something on an interent forum without even seeing what they are criticising.

Posted on 9 May 2011 18:28:27 BDT
A Customer says:
Having just finished watching the first programme I have to say that I don't know what all the fuss is about with regards to cropping - it looks fine and is perfectly watchable.

Posted on 9 May 2011 18:28:29 BDT
[Deleted by the author on 9 May 2011 18:28:40 BDT]
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