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Review: "WWII in HD - Collector's Edition" makes a great gift for dads and grads

WWII in HD - Collector's Edition

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In November of 2009, History aired a 10-episode miniseries titled simply “WWII in HD,” which was “shot and remastered in high definition” and culled from “three thousand hours of color film few knew existed” from several countries’ archives.

Sinise has narrated various cable TV documentaries, including WWII in HD and When We Left Earth: The NASA Missions
Photo by Paul Morigi

Essentially, producer Lou Reda and writers Matthew Ginsburg, Bruce Kennedy and Liz Reph take a page from the Ken Burns playbook and follow the wartime experiences of 12 American men and women who participated in World War II either as combatants (Jack Werner, Shelby Westbrook), caregivers (Jane Wandrey) or reporters (Robert Sherrod, Richard Tregaskis) from Pearl Harbor Day to VJ Day.

The narrative, which combines color footage collected over a two-year world-wide search in Allied and Axis archives, interviews with now-elderly veterans and dramatic readings from the 12 participants’ letters and journals to recreate as vividly as possible what they saw, heard, tasted, smelled and felt during World War II

“WWII in HD” is narrated by actor Gary Sinise (“CSI: New York”), who has done voiceover work for many documentaries, including “When We Left Earth: The NASA Missions." He does a good job of connecting the various storylines and complements the readings of the other cast members very nicely.

The People We Follow and the Actors:

* Jack Werner: Justin Bartha

* Rockie Blunt: Rob Corddry

* Richard Tregaskis: Tim DeKay

* Archie Sweeney: Mark Hefti

* Jimmie Kanaya: James Kyson Lee

* Charles Scheffel: Ron Livingston

* Shelby F. Westbrook: LL Cool J

* Robert Sherrod: Rob Lowe

* Bert Stiles: Josh Lucas

* Jack Yusen: Jason Ritter

* June Wandrey: Amy Smart

* Nolen Marbrey: Steve Zahn

About the HD:

Of course, when this aired on History in 2009 it was aired in two formats, HD and “standard definition” so that basic cable subscribers without HD packages or TVs could see it. The DVD set of “WWII in HD” is presented in standard definition, while the Blu-ray edition comes in full 1080p high-definition playback.

My Take:

While “WWII in HD” is nowhere as moving or powerful as “The War” or as instructive as “The World at War,” it does give viewers a personal view of the American experience in the Second World War.

The series’ structure is fairly chronological, following the course of events from the start of the “European War” on Sept. 1, 1939 till the end of the conflict. Most of the pre-Pearl Harbor events are dealt with in pro-forma fashion because – as many international viewers will note – its focus is on America’s participation in World War II.

That having been said, the series covers battles and campaigns that overlap, so sometimes the narrative skips backward and forward in time depending on which “character” it is following.

The 12 main characters are real persons who in one way or another were caught up in the maelstrom of World War II. Some, we know survived to the present time, while others either die during the war or a short while after.

Obviously, which format you buy will determine how HD "WWII in HD" is for you on home video. On DVD, naturally, playback will be standard definition on DVD players even if you have an HD TV set.

On Blu-ray, playback is fully HD, so the sound and audio should match the intentions of its creators if you have a Blu-ray player.

Blu-ray Specifications:

Video
Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1
Original aspect ratio: 1.78:1, 1.33:1

Audio

English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0

Subtitles

English

Discs
50GB Blu-ray Disc
Four-disc set (4 BDs)

Playback
Region A

Though when "WWII in HD" aired on History (see Episode Guide below) the stated running time was 10 hours, the home version has a run time of seven hours and 35 minutes because there are no commercial breaks or channel promos.

Episode 1: Darkness Falls

Original Air Date—15 November 2009

Episode 2: Hard Way Back

Original Air Date—15 November 2009

Episode 3: Bloody Resolve

Original Air Date—16 November 2009

Episode 4: Battle Stations

Original Air Date—16 November 2009

Episode 5: Day of Days

Original Air Date—17 November 2009

Episode 6: Point of No Return

Original Air Date—17 November 2009

Episode 7: Striking Distance

Original Air Date—18 November 2009

Episode 8: Glory and Guts

Original Air Date—18 November 2009

Episode 9: Edge of the Abyss

Original Air Date—19 November 2009

Episode 10: End Game

Original Air Date—19 November 2009

The 2011 “WWII in HD – Collector’s Edition” box set contains the original 10-part “WWII in HD” series in two Blu-ray discs. In addition, it presents two specials which aired on History after the original series’ run: “WWII in HD: The Battle for Iwo Jima” and “WWII in HD – The Air War.”

· DISC 1: Darkness Falls / Hard Way Back / Bloody Resolve / Battle Stations / Day of Days

· DISC 2: Point of No Return / Striking Distance / Glory and Guts / Edge of the Abyss / End Game / Bonus

· DISC 3: The Battle for Iwo Jima

· DISC 4: The Air War

Special Features

  • Two feature-length WWII in HD specials: The Battle for Iwo Jima and The Air War
  • Character Profiles
  • Behind-the-Scenes Featurettes - Finding the Footage, Preserving the Footage

Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)

Studio: A&E HOME VIDEO

Release Date: November 15, 2011

Run Time: 605 minutes

If there is one weakness to this set is that A&E Home Video and Lou Reda Productions did not include English language subtitles in the main "WWII in HD" series. They did, however, add subtitles to "The Battle for Iwo Jima" and "The Air War."