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839 of 853 people found the following review helpful
on January 10, 2002
Assuming that a filmmaker can't go on indefinately, let's say making a history of World War II in hundred or more hours of videotape, Jeremy Isaacs has done a masterful job of capturing the essense of World War II, including its causes and the Cold War that evolved out of its conclusion.
Please note, "The World At War" was produced between 1971 and 1974, which means the interviews with veterans and other war survivors were filmed close to thirty years after the conclusion of World War II.
I watched much of this series when it was first telecasted in the 1970s, and continued to view reruns of programs over the last 25+ years. I had thought that I had seen every episode two or three times, but after finishing the complete DVD collection, I'm pretty sure I completely missed some programs and saw only bits-and-pieces of others.
What a tremendous production. Beautiful reproduced on DVD, with excellent color and superb graphics (maps).
I especially appreciated the opening special, "The Making of..." with producer Jeremy Isaacs, as well as Isaacs' brief introductions to each of the 26 programs. I only wish he had prepared similar introductions to the supplementary material on Discs 4 and 5, but you can't have everything.
"The World At War" is hundred times better than the typical fare found on A&E, The History Channel, and even PBS. That's not to say that quality productions are not being made today, but Jeremy Isaacs' production is just plain better than most things regularly scheduled documentaries on cable and broadcast television.
Special mention must be made of the music by Carl Davis and the writers, who are too numerous to mention. Everyone familiar with this series knows the contribution of Sir Laurence Olivier, definitely the finest documentary narration I've ever heard.
As an American, I particularly appreciate the British perspective, which offers a different view of the breath, scope and horror of the war. The series really puts the current War on Terrorism in perspective.
The supplementary material begins with an extended interview/commentary by Traudl Junge who served as Hitler's secretary. She's a fascinating person, speaking calmly and thoughtfully about her former employer, especially the events leading up to his suicide.
There is an equally interesting interview with historian Stephen Ambrose, filmed in the early 1970s. While looking 25+ years younger, Ambrose sounds almost the same as he does today during his numerous C-Span and PBS appearances.
The most fascinating of the eight hours of supplementary material are the programs dealing with the Death of Adolf Hitler and the extended two part examination of the Final Solution.
Thank you, Amazon, for making this wonderful documentary so accessible.
For those of you contemplating this major expediture, you won't regret purchasing this landmark visual/aural history of World War II.
And remember, this DVD collection will be available for your children and grandchildren.
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299 of 307 people found the following review helpful
on January 1, 2002
When investing in any DVD, especially a boxed set, you might ponder the question, "How often will I watch this?" Let me say that your purchase of The World at War will offer you endless viewing opportunities! Besides the 26 original episodes, all of the extra features that were produced afterwards are included in the set. There is so much information generated in over 30 hours of material that you will discover something new with each repeated viewing. Each episode will hold your attention from first to last, and they are efficiently indexed so you can easily review a map or replay a speech. Along side the emotional impact of the pictorial images, you have Carl Davis' moving score, a judicious use of period music, personal accounts from all the major powers, and Sir Laurance's strong narration, making this the most comprehensive documentary on the subject. Now if we can only have World War I, narrated by Robert Ryan, available, we would have the documentary bookends to the two most devastating wars in the 20th century.
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209 of 218 people found the following review helpful
on September 15, 2001
For History buffs and those who have a keen, deeply felt interest in World War II beyond just the military events, the World at War, produced by Thames Television (1981) and released earlier on VHS by Thorn/EMI, is a 26 episode documentary set apart from all other documentaries about WWII. No other, with the exception of Walter Cronkite's CBS series, comes close to an unbiased, analytical perspective of a War that cost perhaps 50 million lives and took an emotional and philosophical toll we are still trying to comprehend today.
Narrated by Sir Laurence Olivier and covering all aspects of the war, this definitive series is used by many colleges and universities as a source for History and Documentary Film courses. There is an incredible depth of archive footage used; skilfully woven with interviews of major figures in the War from Britain, US, Canada, Europe and Japan. Many major eye-witness leaders and ordinary people who were still alive in 1981 contributed sometimes surprising, sometimes incredible, and sometimes haunting interviews. Yet, for all its skilful editing and historical sophistication, it is clearly presented and emotionally compelling. In my opinion, it is, along with Kenneth Clark's "Civilisation", the best ever produced British documentary.
What makes this a stellar and overpowering account of the War is Olivier's narration. Never blustery, patriotic, or theatrical, Sir Laurence delivers pointed, thoughtful analysis with his incredible command of English and oration. Music for the series was composed by Carl Davis and even the opening credits set an unforgettable tone in a haunting image of a child in a photograph, dissolving in flames. This series is for those trying to make sense of a 6 year period when the world went mad. Five Stars PLUS.
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94 of 95 people found the following review helpful
on April 15, 2011
I won't say much about the documentary itself because others have been covering that ground for years. Suffice it to say it's the definitive documentary on WWII and always will be because part of what makes it great are the interviews of people who were involved in the events at the time, most of whom have passed away now.

I'm going to focus my comments on the Blu-ray release for those who have the DVD release and are wondering if it's worth purchasing again on Blu-ray. I've had it on DVD for a while. When I made the move to Blu-ray part of me liked the idea of having my favorite documentary on Blu-ray, but I had to wonder how much value there would be in a Blu-ray version of bunch of WWII-era footage that was mostly black and white.

Thanks to the efforts of the folks at FremantleMedia, apparently quite a bit. Because the original The World at War was produced on tape for TV instead of on film there really wouldn't have been any value in simply transferring the original to Blu-ray. Old films transfer well to Blu-ray because film offers a lot of detail, but anything where the original source is tape produced for TV lacks the needed resolution to produce a quality Blu-ray.

So they did the only thing that made sense and basically recreated the series from scratch, starting with the original film and restoring that instead of working with the original series, and the results are by and large very successful.

Here's what you'll notice if you compare the two:

- The first thing you'll notice is that everything has been reframed to get a 16:9 image instead of the original 4:3. The purist in me doesn't like that as it means some portion of the image is always cut off. Fortunately determining what would be lost was made by people instead of by some automated process so in most cases what you lose is sky, ground, or water that really doesn't add much. Sometimes you'll wish you could see the original scene in its entirety, but mostly you won't miss much.

On the flip side, once you're used to widescreen material, old 4:3 stuff tends to be less satisfying and this way what you *do* see is larger. In the end I think it was the right choice.

- The old footage, while nowhere near high-def, is much improved. Dirt and scratches have been removed, brightness and contrast have been improved, and flicker is virtually nonexistent. (Flicker is what you see in a lot of old films when the brightness seems to be changing constantly.) Camera shake has even been virtually eliminated. This is state of the art work, and the results are very impressive.

- The Making of The World at War featurette and a few others look pretty bad to me, which I assume is because they were videotaped originally, so there is no higher definition original source to use.

- Audio is much clearer and brighter. Not overly bright, but the DVD audio has always sounded somewhat dull and muffled.

- There is a stereo audio track and a new 5.1 track. I've listened to both, and while I can hear a difference I haven't found the surround track to offer that much value. In fact, it's a little weird to hear planes and other sounds coming from behind me while Olivier is narrating, as I think they lower the sound effects in the front channels when he's talking. Let's face it, nothing in the surrounds is original material, so if you don't hear it you aren't really missing anything. This is a documentary, not an action movie.

- The menus are much nicer.

- Some Blu-rays restart from where you left off if you stop them and some don't. This one does, which is nice.

So basically what you get here is a much improved viewing experience, not from the usual Blu-ray advantages of high definition and lossless audio, but from the restoration work done on the material. I'm glad I got it.

Packaging: Comes in two cases, with five disks in the first and four in the second. Combined they take up about 60% less shelf space than the DVD version. The box they come in isn't a slipcase. Both sides have a flap, which is odd, but not a big deal.

Hope that helps.
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236 of 249 people found the following review helpful
I very much regret A&E Home Video chose to do an extremely amateurish job of producing The World at War (30th Anniversary Edition). Laurence Olivier's fine narration is barely audible during the initial ten or twelve seconds of many episodes, a situation which could and should have been corrected by A&E Home Video; and at the end of every episode the viewer of this product is instantaneously clobbered with a way-too-loud blast of recently-included advertising, something A&E Home Video could and should have moderated.

This brilliant television series deserved better. Thankfully, excellence of material far outweighs those errors A&E Home Video committed in producing the boxed set; but they are none the less aggravations which distract the viewer and hence detract from this release's expected quality.

My rating of three stars is the best compromise I could think of, between the one-star rating A&E Home Video deserves and the five-star rating I'd give the television series itself. One wonders, doesn't one, why no quality control was implemented prior to release of this product?
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77 of 80 people found the following review helpful
on December 27, 1999
Rarely does a documentary hold a viewer enthralled from start to finish, a feat which The World at War accomplishes from the opening sequence through the closing credits. The definitive film documentary of the second great global conflict, this production is first rate in every aspect. Archival footage, insightful interviews, intelligent editing and the classic narration of Sir Laurence Olivier are welded into a powerful video production focussed on presenting a visual record of the war as opposed to an editorial commentary.
Obviously, this is a British production which leans somewhat sympathetically toward the English view of the struggle and concentrates on the European Theater of Operations. However, interviewees include representatives of all the major powers, and even relatively minor theaters of operation (such as Burma, India and others) are covered.
The full range of expected topics are included; the period leading to war, Blitzkrieg in Poland, the Battles of Britain and the Atlantic, the Holocaust, Barbarrosa and the Atomic Bomb, naming only a few.
The individual episodes are taut and compact, covering well-defined topics and timeframes, and work well as individual programs or, as they were intended, components in a larger picture. Much of the footage is actual combat photography; therefore much is black and white and some has less than perfect production value. However, this only adds to the overall impact of the presentation.
There is no attempt to glorify the combat, lionize or villify any of the participants, or to second-guess leaders. Events are depicted as they developed and, where tactical or strategic misjudgements are indicated, they are usually pointed out by persons actually involved in the planning or execution to the operations.
The World at War is a straight-forward, sobering examination of the central event of the twentieth century. No serious student of history should miss seeing it, and no student of military history should fail to include it in his or her video library.
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73 of 76 people found the following review helpful
on May 2, 2002
I have watched these 26 episodes several times and the two bonus episodes are also a wonderfully informative and insightful addition, particularly the intensely expressive (albeit short) interview with Traudl Junge, Hitler's secretary. The voice and powerful acting talent of Laurence Olivier truly enhances the emotional impact of these series. The facts are numerous, but, I gave these series only 4 out of 5 stars because, having read "A World At Arms", by Gerhard Weinberg (a 920-page epic account of the War), I found that some precious footage was wasted on showing too much of nothing (e.g. an entire episode was dedicated to Holland, hardly a major power in the war, even though it was a very fascinating episode indeed). There were not enough details mentioned, for example about the Desert War in Africa, nor were enough episodes dedicated to the war in the Pacific. There also should have been a much more in-depth coverage of major battles like The Battle of The Bulge, more expanded coverage of the final 9 months or so of the War in the Pacific where many things went wrong for Japan and why they went wrong. There is hardly any mention of the weak coordination of the Japanese navy and army and their constant disagreements and quarrels which resulted in a practical "turkey shoot" for the Americans in the Pacific, of Japanese supply ships sailing with no convoy protection and Japan being forced to even use their submarines to transport food out of desperation.
There is also hardly any mention of Chiang-Kai-Shek of China and his dialogue with the allies in trying to stop enemies on two fronts - the communists of Mao-Tse-Tung and the Japanese barbars who delighted in cutting off the fingers and ears and hands and feet of Chinese civilians in places like Nanking (the Nanking massacre).

But there are some excellent episodes like the one on Burma and that horrendous mud!... And everyone will remember Avadour-Sur-Glane (?), the French town where about 600 citizens, men, women and children were rounded up in 1944 when the Nazi's were in retreat after operation Overlord (Normandy) ... and shot...and the town was destroyed and stands in ruins, never re-built to this day as a dedication to the unspeakable monstrosities of the Nazis. You will come out of these series never seeing humans the same way and thinking how animals are such "angels" compared to humans. That old and mindless expression of calling someone an "animal" does not apply after you see this documentary, for animals never kill each other the way humans have done so many times in their history...
The quality of the footage is fine and the poetic voice of Laurence Olivier permeates ceaselessly throughout the series. The episodes on the Soviet Union, with Russian songs and one particular poem is enough to make one's heart wrench (and teeth clench) and cry... Remember...
This is not an academic documentary series but still is the best one made so far on World War II. You won't be disappointed by it.
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63 of 65 people found the following review helpful
on September 5, 2001
Television documentaries are notoriously quick to date - the assumptions and methodologies of one generation are rejected as inadequate by the next. In any case, the trend has moved from sweeping panoramas, to small-scale, small-focus micro-histories.
So, after 30 years, how does the massive 'World at War' hold up? Surprsingly well, actually. There are a number of reasons for this. Although it is a single documentary with an overall coherence, drive and tone, it is also a series of 26 discrete hour-long documentaries, each written and directed by different talents.
As a whole, these documentaries create a totality, exploring all the connecting elements of the war: the pre-history of all the major countries; detailed accounts, analyses and reminiscnces of the major events, battles, leaders, tactics; memories of 'ordinary' civilians and combatants, as well as the big names (although the former aren't named). But individually, the leisurely detailed studies of each topic anticipates the methods of the future micro-historians, giving each part requisite dignity within the whole.
Another reason for the programme's success is its still astonishing footage, much of it recently released from Germany and Japan, giving fresh visual evidence to old stories.
For me, the programme's continuing validity lies in the fact that it is not really a documentary at all. 'The World at war' is an epic, tragic poem in 26 cantos, narrating the decline of European civilisation, a momento mori for the valiant dead. The narrative is constructed like a Homeric epic, an account of leaders, enmities, inevitable battles, warriors, desruction, death, aftermath.
Laurence Olivier's narration, possibly the best thing he's ever done, is a remarkable misture of storyteller, poet, witness, disbelieving guide; the scripts ring with metre and poetry rather than grey fact. Carl Davis' continually inventive score unites and underlines the entire work; the sound-effets dramatising the footage, unforgivable in a usual context, are perfectly acceptable here. The image of the destroyed French village, its entire population murdered one afternoon by the Germans, stands as a grimly articulate symbol, not just for the war, but for this documentary, in a genre designed to record and uncover the truth, faced with questions it can never answer - how? Why?
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53 of 54 people found the following review helpful
This is a review of the blu-ray versus DVD version, as the content of this 40+ year old series is well known.

Much has been said about what has been lost in the move from 4:3 to 16:9 but its best to see it than describe it, and I've enclosed some photos to illustrate the issue, as a picture is worth 1000 words. I am not a purist, but W@W suffers more through this process than others such as Stanley Kubrick's The Shining or Barry Lyndon. I surmise its because the esthetic of 4:3 is well established in the voluminous library of video about WWII, not to mention the loss of imagery cropped by the conversion. It would difficult to imagine a Charlie Chaplin movie in 16:9 but if one wished too, zooming, as a viewer's choice, provides a near identical effect while preserving the original material in the recording.

A photo I've enclosed is a clear example: the UfA German newsreels are always opened by a title frame, but almost half of title page is cropped away, including its labels 'Ton Woche'. In a massive parade by Hitler, the original newsreels includes a drive through the Brandenburg gate viewed from the ground through to the top sculpture, which is now cropped away leaving only the massive pillars, and detracts from the massiveness of the work; this is like looking at the pyramids of Eygpt with the top most half cut off.

The remastering has substantially cleaned the original video and sound, and it marked improvement, but it also magnifies faults in the older media. The blurriness of DVD hid blemishes well, and any up-converting DVD player looked closer to the state, color and clarity of period newsreels I've seen in the National Archives. The bluray version shows more film grain and damage that was blurred out on DVD, and I had to substantially reduce sharpness to make it more appealing, likewise the old soundtracks limits are more evident in the clearer bluray format.

The effect of remastering depend on the original material, it does very little for the older or damaged material such as WWII footage, but makes a substantial improvement in material taken in later years. The interviews from the 1970s are universally improved.

One unique annoyance of 16:9 conversion is that the imagry moves at a faster pace because its magnified. I developed a headache watching the bluray version after 3+ hours, which I've never had before with other material.

The menu system is far better than the DVD, and there are more extras and side notes in the bluray version than any prior version of W@W, and I've seen them all from VHS, beta, laserdisc, DVD and now bluray.

I think new viewers of W@W will not miss the original if they've never seen it. New viewers also shouldn't compare the aged but restored material to modern recordings, as they won't be aware of how much worse it originally was. Fans of W@W and other WWII documentaries or films, however, will have to consider the bluray version as a re-imagining of the original series rather than a preservation of a classic, so I've downgraded my rating from 5 to 4 stars. If you own the DVD version, the bluray version is not something I'd rush out and buy.
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61 of 64 people found the following review helpful
on January 26, 2002
[Following is an incremental review spanning my audience experience of 'The World At War' series over 29 years. The first part is my assessment in 2002 of the series content based on having seen the original and several rerun television releases, and on owning the year 2000 PT Video PAL release, comparable with the first US NTSC release. The final stage is my comment on 30 March 2012 about the Blu-ray release - angled more on the technical aspects of that release.]

The vast body of documentary-making about the Second World War has nothing to compare with Jeremy Isaacs' "The World At War", made for Britain's Thames Television in 1973-74. The term miniseries is inadequate for this giant of quality and quantity. It stands so far above everything remotely similar as to be in a class of its own. With some 32 hours of viewing culled from millions of feet of wartime US, Russian, British, German and Japanese newsreel and propaganda film, and unique postwar interviews, this is a MEGAseries. Sustained high quality shines through, although almost 40 years have elapsed since it was made--and more than 67 years since the archival footage was shot. The DVD release is a gem which everyone interested in the genre will want to own. It is no exaggeration to describe this series as a milestone of civilisation.

The many postwar interviews gathered for this series with wartime Allied and Axis political leaders, generals, resistance leaders, diplomats, and ordinary and not-so-ordinary soldiers and citizens, are astonishing in their range, candour and insight. It is impossible here to do justice to these interviewees. Mountbatten, LeMay, Prince Bernhard, Durrell, Westphal, Manteuffel, Guingand, Galland, Warlimont, Fuchida, Genda, Galbraith, and Samuelson are just some of the famous names.

Albert Speer, who was Hitler's architect and later his Armaments Minister, talks frankly and contritely about the coverup of the "Final Solution" and his close relations with Hitler. Statesmen Averell Harriman (US), Anthony Eden (UK), and Koichi Kido (Japan), among others, recall diplomatic and political byplay and insiders' views ranging from Churchill to the Emperor of Japan. The top WWII Japanese air ace to survive the war, Saburo Sakai, recalls the youthful patriotic fervour of his fellow fliers and the impact of Japan's reversal of fortunes. Marshal of the (British) Air Force Sir Arthur "Bomber" Harris explains his strategy for bombing Germany as Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of RAF Bomber Command. General Curtis LeMay recalls his experiences leading mass formations of the US Eighth Air Force on daylight bombing raids over Europe. US, Russian, Japanese, Dutch and British warriors and housewives recall dealing out and receiving the horrors of war. Hitler's youngest secretary, Gertrude "Trudl" Junge, talks of the bizarre underground life in the Fuhrerbunker. Eisenhower's driver, Kay Summersby, recalls her former boss's skills and frustrations in coordinating multinational Allied command. The last prominent survivor of the 1944 Stauffenberg plot against Hitler, Ewald Heinrich von Kleist, recalls his days as a young Wehrmacht lieutenant and gives insights into why the German anti-Nazi movement was small and why it failed. Admiral Karl Dönitz and U-boat ace Otto Kretschmer recall the battle of the Atlantic. General Sir Brian Horrocks, the inspirational British commander who led XXX Corps in the drive on Arnhem (played by Edward Fox in A Bridge Too Far [Blu-ray]) talks of Operation Market Garden, the rivalry between Montgomery and Patton, and the burdens of military command. The overlay of archival footage of the actual parachute and glider drops in Market Garden make the corresponding scenes in the movie, "A Bridge Too Far", look like home movie sequences. Linking it all is a matter-of-fact commentary which soars above chauvinism and prejudice. It is read in deadpan style by the distinguished British actor Laurence Olivier--among his finest work.

The globe-changing civilisation-shaking upheaval of the Second World War continues to fascinate an immense worldwide readership and viewing audience. If you, too, want to better understand how so much decent, intelligent and cultivated humanity descended into and in some cases survived that madness, view the grim and gripping "The World At War" series, and prepare to be amazed.

Update in November 2011: Good to see that this landmark documentary series remains available in DVD. I think it is time for the copyright owners to consider some digital restoration and a Blu-ray release. [Exactly what I later learnt they were already doing.]

Update 30 March 2012: I recently bought the Blu-ray release of 'The World At War' published under the History Channel label by A&E Networks, and available here on Amazon. It has been extensively restored for this release by Fremantle Media. Don't expect video transfer of WWII black and white combat footage, or even 1970s color video and 16mm transfers, ever to look like current full HD, but the restoration is excellent and a significant advance on the earlier DVD release. It has removed many artefacts visible in the DVDs and improved overall resolution, often by going back to original material. Even the archival wartime footage looks vastly better. Aspect ratio has been converted from 4:3 to 16:9. An interesting "making of" about the restoration (including new contributions from original series producer Sir Jeremy Isaacs), added to the extra features, explains how the restorers agonized over the issue of clipping some of the image in the aspect ratio change and how they minimised apparent image loss. Surprisingly the aspect ratio change is least noticeable in the archival footage. It is most noticeable in the full-face interviews to camera which were shot specially for the series in 4:3. The restorers chose to chop foreheads and leave chins when full-face 4:3 framing was very tight, as it often was for the early days of small screen TV. I'm still viewing the new disks, but I have seen enough - comparing the same random segments on DVD and Blu-ray viewed on a 65-inch HD plasma TV - to highly recommend the Blu-ray release. Anyone with a Region A Blu-ray player (note this release is region encoded) should now prefer this release to the earlier DVD version. Another nice feature of the Blu-ray release is total reworking of the disk navigation: the annoying and often confusing time-line episode navigation of the old DVD release is gone. The content is as amazing as ever for its insight and quality, and I see no reason to alter my earlier praise for content above. This is a jewel of a documentary series to own, explore and appreciate, and the Blu-ray is currently the best form in which to see it.
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