255 of 263 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ad-hoc collection... But excellent documentaries nonetheless
The contents of this boxed set are up to the usual high standards of the BBC. It should be noted that it was not conceived as a single integrated documentary series. It is actually a collection of separate, unrelated series (10 series in all) produced by the BBC over a span of some 16 years from 1989 to 2005. There is no common thread between them except that they all...
Published on September 17, 2005 by dooby
97 of 105 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Caveat Emptor
This is NOT a history of WWII. Rather, a skillful compilation of BBC documentaries about WWII released over the past few years , of varied relevance and inconsistent quality, which internal redundancies show not to have been originally designed to hang together as a whole. In addition, the military perspective is almost exclusively British (at times tendentiously so),...
Published on November 5, 2005 by I. Martinez-Ybor
Most Helpful First | Newest First
255 of 263 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ad-hoc collection... But excellent documentaries nonetheless,
The contents of this boxed set are up to the usual high standards of the BBC. It should be noted that it was not conceived as a single integrated documentary series. It is actually a collection of separate, unrelated series (10 series in all) produced by the BBC over a span of some 16 years from 1989 to 2005. There is no common thread between them except that they all relate to WWII. Those wanting a straightforward, integrated account of the War would do better to look at the multi-award winning 1975 "World at War" series. Nonetheless, the various series gathered here are superb in themselves and have individually garnered a plethora of awards. It is just that they were not meant to be cobbled together as a set and thus, taken together, serve more as a collection of excellent individual documentaries than a comprehensive history of the Second World War.
The BBC set presupposes a basic knowledge of the war on the part of the viewer. It does not cover all aspects of the conflict. In fact large parts of the war are left out. But what it does touch on, it does so in greater depth than ever before. The finest parts here are the documentaries on the Nazis, the Final Solution and the Russo-German war. The two separate series on the Nazis, one examining their rise to power and the other on the Final Solution rank among the finest documentaries to have been made on those subjects. The collection also benefits from its more recent production date, with greater access to film and documentary archives from the former Eastern bloc.
The emphasis of the set is definitely Euro-centric. Some events are touched on at great length while others get hardly a mention. This is the result of it being an ad-hoc collection of unrelated series. An astonishing three hours are devoted to the evacuation from Dunkirk. There is then no account of the subsequent Battle of Britain and only passing mention of the London Blitz. The stunning victories achieved by the Germans in the early months of the war are given rather short shrift. So to is the revolutionary form of warfare that helped them achieve this, the Blitzkrieg. While the Holocaust was one of the most abominable crimes of the 20th century, devoting 5 hours to it in "Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State", plus even more in "The Nazis: A Warning From History," meant that the Holocaust accounts for over 1/4 of the entire set. In contrast, the entire Asia-Pacific war is relegated to a mere 90 minutes. And the focus of those 90 minutes is not actually on a chronology of the Asia-Pacific war but on the reasons behind the Japanese Army's transformation from the humane, "civilised" army that fought in WWI to the barbarous one that perpetrated so many atrocities in WWII. It makes for one of the most fascinating documentaries in the set but it is not in the end meant as an account of the Asia-Pacific war. The set as a whole is thus very lopsided with an overemphasis on the European theater and especially the Holocaust. The result is that while the individual series are great, they do not add up to a balanced and comprehensive whole. Still it deserves at least four stars for the sheer quality of the individual documentaries. This set will be more suitable for viewers who already have a fairly good grasp of the war and are keen on going deeper into particular topics. It will appeal to those wanting to explore less often tackled subjects, like the above-mentioned transformation of the Japanese Army for instance, or the morality of the allied firebombing of German cities, or the reasons behind the intense brutality shown in the Russo-German war compared to the war in the west. It is definitely more thought provoking than your usual run-of-the-mill war documentary.
As it is such an extensive and disparate collection, it is not possible to write an article discussing the merits and faults of all 10 separate series within the 600 word limit imposed by Amazon. For those interested, more extensive reviews can be found under each individual series which are all available separately. Viewers should note that the four most recent series are in a "docu-drama" rather than traditional documentary format. 1) "Dunkirk," 2) "D-Day: Reflections of Courage," 3) "D-Day To Berlin," and 4) "Auschwitz: Inside The Nazi State," are all in docu-drama form. "Dunkirk" is a complete dramatization (much like a TV movie), while the other three have a fairly good mix of archive footage, interviews with veterans and re-enactments and thus more closely resemble traditional documentaries. I am not a fan of dramatization. I can see where dramatization has its merits as in showing the discussions within the various High Commands, or internal Nazi meetings (like the Wannsee Conference) where there is no archive footage available, but some of the re-enactments have no real military or historic significance and serve only as drama. Of the 4 docu-dramas, the 2 most successful were "Auschwitz: Inside The Nazi State" and "D-Day To Berlin," with just the right mix of archive footage, interviews and the minimum amount of drama. Nonetheless in terms of factual content, both the docu-dramas and the traditional documentaries are excellent.
The following are the contents of the boxed set:
1) "The Nazis: A Warning From History." (1997, 6 Episodes, 290mins, 4:3 Fullscreen, 2 Discs)
- On the reasons behind the rise and fall of the Nazis
2) "The Road To War." (1989, 4 Episodes, 195mins, 4:3 Fullscreen, 1 Disc)
- On how Britain, Italy, Japan and the USA entered the war
3) "Dunkirk." (2004, 3 Episodes, 176mins, 16:9 Anamorphic, 1 Disc)
- On the evacuation from Dunkirk (Drama)
4) "War of the Century." (1999, 4 Episodes, 190mins, 4:3 Fullscreen, 1 Disc)
- On the Russo-German war
5) "Battle Of the Atlantic." (2002, 3 Episodes, 146mins, 16:9 Anamorphic, 1 Disc)
- On the U-boats and the Atlantic convoys
6) "Horrors Of The East." (2000, 2 Episodes, 98mins, 4:3 Fullscreen, 1 Disc)
- On the Japanese Army and the Asia-Pacific war - Supplements on the Indian Army and the Burma War
7) "Battlefields." (2001, 4 Episodes, 194mins, 16:9 Anamorphic, 1 Disc)
- On El Alamein, Monte Cassino, Arnhem and RAF Bomber Command (the firebombing of German cities)
8) "D-Day: Reflections of Courage." (2004, 2 Episodes, 90mins, 16:9 Anamorphic, 1 Disc)
- On the events surrounding D-Day (Docu-drama)
9) "D-Day To Berlin." (2004, 3 Episodes, 150mins, 16:9 Anamorphic, 1 Disc)
- On the breakout from Normandy, Ops Market Garden, the Battle of the Bulge and the German surrender (Docu-drama)
10) "Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State." (2005, 6 Episodes, 300mins, 16:9 Anamorphic, 2 Discs)
- On the Nazis' conceptualisation and implementation of the Final Solution (Docu-drama)
Picture quality is very good even in the earliest of the series dating from 1989. The five most recent series all come in 16:9 widescreen with anamorphic enhancement. All in all, the 10 series presented here are excellent. Whether you get them separately or together depends on how many of the individual series interest you and also whether you take to the new docu-drama format that has been the rage with the BBC in recent years. Personally, given a choice of buying them separately, I would avoid "Dunkirk" and "D-Day: Reflections of Courage". But that's a purely personal preference based on my dislike of dramatization in documentaries. A major consideration for getting the boxed set is its price. If you intend buying 6 or more of the individual documentaries, it would make sense getting the boxed set, as it is some $80 less than getting the series separately ($149 vs $229).
97 of 105 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Caveat Emptor,
This is NOT a history of WWII. Rather, a skillful compilation of BBC documentaries about WWII released over the past few years , of varied relevance and inconsistent quality, which internal redundancies show not to have been originally designed to hang together as a whole. In addition, the military perspective is almost exclusively British (at times tendentiously so), hence narrow to a point perilously close to offensive neglect. If one is looking for a DVD overview of WWII, go to "The World at War," amazingly remaining the primer after all these years, even if its relative disregard of the Eastern European front, though emblematic of its time, remains problematic.
Nonetheless, having raised appropriate general caveats, there is much that is interesting and well executed in this elegant package. Taking each documentary in turn,
The Nazis - A Warning from History: Together with the final documentary on Auschwitz, the best the set has to offer. The exposition is clear and as thorough as one can expect from the medium. The footage is well rendered, a significant lot of it fresh to me.
The Road to War: Episodes detailing the political background leading to the War in Britain, Italy, Japan and the USA. All of it is quite good, but the one glaring omission is France. Considering that in 1939 France's was the most powerful Allied army (Britain's strength was its fleet), the rapid fall of France was not only a disaster but a puzzle, Vichy's initiative of "collaboration" a disgrace. Both can only be understood in context with France's internicine pre-war politics, the most conflicted of European democracies, an understanding of which is essential to an appreciation of Nazi Germany's initial diplomatic and military successes. This omission is a serious flaw.
Dunkirk: This retreat and rescue gets a full DVD. It relies heavily on play-acting, docu-drama type film, depicting leaders and grunts, which in neither case is interesting nor convincing. The May 1940 cabinet dilemma in London is played out as drama with actors portraying Churchill, Halifax, Chamberlain et al. It sinks lower from docu- to melo- with scenes portraying "Everyman" Brits protecting the rear or fleeing Germans, even being massacred. This is truly history not only "lite" but ludicrous and boring.
War of the Century: Hitler's attack on and eventual rout by the Soviets. Probably as much or more than we get elsewhere about the war in the East. Kursk, the largest tank battle ever fought, at around 4 million men one of the most significant engagements of the war, and, arguably, the beginning of the end for Hitler, is not analyzed, indeed perhaps not even mentioned.
Horror in the East: Mostly centers on Japan's actions in mainland Asia and its impact on British troops there. The American island war in the Pacific takes a back seat, though Okinawa is covered. Midway is not mentioned though it terminated Japan as a naval power. The emphasis is not on the war's progress but on Japanese cruelty. Some of this DVD is redundant with prior analysis of Japan.
Battlefields: Provides analysis of El Alamein, Casino, Arnhem (remember "A Bridge Too Far"?) and the Allied bomber offensive. Mostly interesting though Arnhem analysis engages in wishful "what-if" thinking of what proved to be an ill-conceived, botched operation which soiled Montgomery's glory earned so splendidly at El Alamein. As for the bomber offensive over Germany, USAF participation is hardly covered.
D-Day: well done, though it also relies a lot on "docu-drama" as if one hadn't seen much better stuff at the movies. It's important to note that the largest national contingents of troops who carried out Operation Neptune, the initial Normandy landings of Operation Overlord, were British and Canadian. The British slant of this episode is welcomed.
D-Day to Berlin: rushes the war in Europe to a conclusion, spending an inordinate amount of time on Montgomery's squabbles with Eisenhower (history showed Ike to be invariably correct, though one wouldn't guess it from the rather tendentious narration).
Auschwitz - Inside the Nazi State: 2 superb DVD's, with masterful narration by Linda Hunt. Unbeknownst to us at the time, the moral epicenter of the answer as to why we fought. This documentary explains all aspects of Auschwitz, moral, political, mechanical, indeed technocratic.
The documentaries benefit from participation by surviving participants on all sides of the conflict.
Thus this is indeed a mixed bag of a collection. Documentaries supplement but do not substitute good books, and perhaps no single volume WWII history is more thorough, better structured, more balanced, and readable than "A World at Arms" by Gerhard Weinberg. For documentaries, first choice, as mentioned above, remains "A World at War." For docu-dramas, indeed perhaps the greatest "war movie" ever made, I suggest "Band of Brothers." This BBC compilation is worthwhile for some of its components; in no way is the whole greater than the sum of its parts.
Since I wrote the review above (my gosh, almost seven years ago to the day!) there are two points I'd like to add, and a third I'd like to re-emphasize, while continuing to agree with what I previously wrote:
1/ "The Road to War" volume seems even more fatally flawed than before by the exclusion of France in the 1930's.
2/ This BBC product understandably focuses on British participation, the western European front and its ancillary theatres, notwithstanding select forays into the Pacific. But regarding the European war, the major flaw, indeed damning flaw, of this and the superior "The World at War," is the failure to acknowledge that Germany was defeated primarily by the Soviets. Most of the Wehrmacht was deployed to acquire "lebensraum" in the East, thus fight the Soviet Union. It was Soviet might, heroism, ruthlessness that crushed the Nazis. The great and heroic Allied actions in Normandy, the Battle of the Bulge, the long slug up the Italian peninsula were all ultimately designed to prevent Germany from re-deploying forces to the Eastern Front, where the massive, decisive battles and the inexorable march to Berlin had been taking place for the past several years. Cold War propaganda distorted the teaching of history, at least in American schools; several American generations were taught WWII barely discussing Soviet participation, their "Great Patriotic War" as the Soviets referred to it. Such failure encompassed the neglect to describe the immense suffering and ruin that took place in Soviet territory as a result of being the only theatre being continuously active since the inception of Barbarossa in 1941. One would hope that by today the teaching of history has changed. The Pacific war and its victory was almost exclusively an American domain. The BBC documentary still feels very perfunctory in its treatment of American painful island-to-island combat on its route to Japan.
3/ With regard to one volume histories of World War II, a new worthy companion to Gerhard Weinberg's has appeared just this year:The Second World War Anthony Beevor's "The Second World War."
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Positively Illuminating and informative ....,
A remarkably deep and penetrating analysis of a war that changed the world forever has come to us from the BBC, and I must confess that I am impressed by the scope of this production.
With commentary provided by noted Hitler biographer, Ian Kershaw, and other noteworthy eyewitness accounts and featurettes, these all raise The BBC History of WWII to the status of near-epic. Comparisons to the World At War, I'm afraid, are not really applicable here. World At War was meant to be a comprehensive examination of WWII from A to Z (Autobahn to Zeitgeist?), this series offers a more analytical examination of specific issues and their far-reaching consequences on the war and the players involved--not a battle by battle account of the war. "The Nazis: A Warning From History" is a case in point. In depth interviews reveal German psyche and attitudes towards Hitler and the Nazi party in the early days of the Reich; for some, joining the Party was the "thing to do" and for others, Hitler was the answer to restoring German prestige in a time when most of Europe was reeling from the physical and economic devastation of WWI. All fascinating stuff that goes beyond the scope of battlefield's winners and losers and bodycounts.
In my opinion, the installments on Nazi Germany and Auschwitz are worth the price for this magnificant collection of over 30 hours of programming. Anyone who has World At War would do well to purchase this set as well since this offers an up front and detailed look at a war that still haunts us today. Some of the re-enactments utlilizing actors, especially those of the Battle of Dunkirk, are questionable, but do not really detract from the overall quality of this set.
My grandfather served with the Alpine Division in the Italian Army before he emigrated to the Bay Area in the late '30's, so the installment on Italy's involvement in the war was of particular interest and well-handled by the BBC team. Some great footage was preserved and included in this set.
But why only four stars? Well, to echo the claims of the other reviewers, the war against Japan gets little coverage confined to the one disc "Horror in the East," but don't let that keep you from purchasing and enjoying this series.
26 of 32 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not the best....,
This series-compilation fills in a few of the gaps in the World at War series, but is no World at War which is arguably the best commercial review of WWII.
Part of the reason the World at War is so compelling is it's historical footage and accuracy which is UNTAINTED by modernist views.
The BBC history of WWII has a perceivable anti-war slant which doesn't belong in a historical accounting. the World at War is NOT pro-war mind you but simply relates what happened during the War.
If you want a good, comprehensive, accurate accounting of WWII from both the Allies side and the Axis side (and civilian side as well) run, don't walk, and purchase World at War.
if your simply looking for more information to fill out your library, you could do worse than this compilation, but you certainly could do better as well.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best documentary sets on WWII,
This review is from: BBC History of World War II (Repackage) (DVD)
This past year I started an intense study of WWII. I have bought a number of documentary sets and movies about WWII. I can say without a doubt that the BBC set ranks right at the top with the World at War series of 1971-1974. Of course it is from the British viewpoint, but it is great. Actually two of the dics are worth the price of the whole set. The disc about the U-boats in the Atlantic and the disc about 4 important battles are the best I have seen. If you are really interested in WWII, don't fail to get this set. If you look you can get it at a good price and it is worth every cent...
12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Massive exploration of WWII,
The BBC History of WWII is an epic series spanning the history of the rise to power of the Nazis to the apocalypse that nearly destroyed Europe. The scope of this massive undertaking is impressive - though viewers should be aware that the box set is actually a collection of separate series and not a single production. That aside - every aspect of the war is covered in detail with an unbelievable ammount of footage, both in color and black and white. A special disc is devoted to the Holocaust. The treatment of the American campaign in the Pacific is less comprehensive (one disc) but is solid. Above all, the set is compelling and thought-provoking. If you are interested in WWII this set may change some of your ideas about the most destructive conflict in history, and reveal less well-known aspects of the war (such as a series focusing on the Battle of the Atlantic). First class.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific series on the rise of Naziism, World War II and the Holocaust,
This review is from: BBC History of World War II (Repackage) (DVD)
I found this series to contain some of the best programs I have ever seen on the rise of Naziism, World War II and the Holocaust. The blending of actual footage with re-enactments of historical events was very smooth and kept the story going without a hitch. I was riveted by the interviews with people who were there. Getting the British point of view and the coverage of events in which the British armed forces played major roles was very enlightening.
I thought I was knowledgeable about the events covered but I learned quite a bit more in viewing the DVDs. As the co-President of the Holocaust Museum & Study Center in Spring Valley, New York, I am recommending this series to our Education Director so that sections may be utilized in furthering our educational mission.
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Widely varying quality,
The contents of these disks are from different production times and crews. The quality of the contents therefore are widely varying. Some have keen insight and others insult your intelligence and have errors you can easily notice. One example of this is an "economics expert" claiming that the public works projects in Germany had no effect in alleviating the depression. These seemed to work when done by other countries.
Every once in a while there is something of importance that is not in the usual history books. One example is the error-free leader of a major spiritual group based in Rome publicly praising Mussolini for invading Ethiopia.
53 of 76 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good for what it is, but . . .,
There is nothing new here. This is not an original series like The World at War, but various productions thrown together in a package. There is no indication of this in the advertizing and, reading it now, the Amazon.com review makes only a brief mention of this fact. I already own or have seen all the segments. I consider this deceptive and am sending it back for a refund.
That said, the documentaries in themselves are excellent. The British excel at history, and this is no exception. However, from the way this expensive set is being marketed, "buyer beware" should be the watchword.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Saga of Gore and Guts plus the Inhunanity of War,
They say that war histories are usually written by the victors not long after the event. Thus, earlier documentary histories of World War II failed to give much balance for telling the story from the viewpoint of the ultimately defeated Axis powers, though the first successful attempt was in the excellent German TV series made into a movie, Das Boot, based on the last voyage of a U-Boat submarine and its crew.
Also the further away in time one gets from the actual series of events that make up World War II the more perspective one gets on it. Hence for at least the first half of the nineteenth century Napoleon I was viewed as every bit of a villain and disturber of the international peace as Hitler has been seen during the second half of the twentieth century. That is not to say that this fairly new box set on World War II puts any unnecessary gloss on Hitler or the Nazis but it does attempt to explain who they were and where they were coming from, how they got elected to power and why they were greatly supported -up to 1943 at least- by the majority of German and Austrian people.
Yet one never is free of contemporary fashions regarding a particular period of time in history. The viewpoints subtly, and sometimes not so subtly, hidden in these documentaries reflect the early 21st century's mistrust of wars as a solution in human conflict. Thus, the BBC documentary focuses much more than usual on the seemingly inevitable bloodiness and inhumanity of war, with atrocities committed by all sides, although the Nazis and Japanese still seem to be the worst, but not the only offenders. German guards are seen executing French resistance members even with allies only three miles away. In the episode on the wars in the Far East a US marine veteran over fifty year later is explaining how, and why, they routinely shot Japanese soldiers even while they were surrendering. The American soldiers regarded Japanese as subhuman just as the Nazi troops viewed the Russians. Russian and German civilian survivors relate how their women were raped and murdered by either side almost as a matter of routine. A whole episode is shown of the allied bombing of Germany and the dreadful and deliberate slaughter from 20,000 above of civilians under Bomber Harris. The episode covering the D-Day invasion is particularly graphic and vividly coloured, showing blood and guts galore after firing of machine guns or shelling, the like of which is not show at all in the famous black and white film of the event, The Longest Day. The moral seems to be that war brutalises almost everyone involved.
The series is presented roughly chronologically but is more analytical than usual in war documentaries and necessarily selective despite the 30 hours at the producers' disposal. Being a British documentary it naturally focuses much more on British units than on their American allies, for example. In many episodes , particularly those covering the German invasion of Soviet Russia and the subsequent reversal of fortune after Stalingrad, there are reels of vintage footage spliced with modern interviews with military and civilian survivors on all sides. The episodes on the successful retreat from Dunkirk interestingly enough rely on a complete and very convincing dramatisation of events as seen by different battle units and by high command control in Whitehall. This approach is loosely followed in the D-Day diskette. In the Dunkirk and D-Day diskettes actual footage is skilfully interwoven with the dramatisation. Personally I found this box series produced between 2000 and 2004 one of the most enlightening and interesting drama documentaries on the subject that I have seen in my own 66 years.
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BBC History of World War II (Repackage) by Charles Wheeler (DVD - 2009)