War and Remembrance: The Complete Epic Mini-Series
DVD | Box Set
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Winner of Emmy, Director s Guild, and Golden Globe Awards!
Starring Robert Mitchum, Jane Seymour, and Sharon Stone.
Filmed on location in ten countries, this extraordinary production is the largest and most ambitious undertaking in television and motion picture history. Featuring an all-star cast and spectacular reenactments of the Allied invasions at Normandy and the Philippines, Herman Wouk s classic novel is brought to life in an award-winning mini-series that vividly recreates one of history s most unforgettable chapters. This deluxe boxed set contains the entire epic story of WAR AND REMEMBRANCE all fourteen parts, over 25 hours long on 12 discs!
Includes bonus audio CD of the War and Remembrance soundtrack music
Includes bonus interviews and commentary with actors and production personnel, War and Remembrance A Living History featurette, documentaries The Making of War and Remembrance and War and Remembrance Behind the Scenes , and The Music of War and Remembrance featurette.
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The sheer scope of the series is staggering. It covers a period of 6 years and spans the globe. Locations are well-chosen and convincing - most of it was filmed in the Czech Republic, which does duty for many different locations. (For example, Berlin is actually Prague.) Special effects - no CIG back then - are excellent. The writing, cinematography, and the score, are all superb. In WAR, the scenes of the Final Solution, particularly in Theresienstadt and Auschwitz (filmed on location in Auschwitz), are truly harrowing and not for the faint-hearted.
Best of all is the cast (with one important exception). Appearing in both series:
Robert Mitchum brings real gravitas to the role of Pug Henry. He is older in appearance than he is supposed to be in the books but not so much so as to be problematic. He is rather dour, but then the character Wouk created is like that. Polly Bergen as Rhoda Henry is perfect - she captures the character's charm, frustration, flirtatiousness and loneliness, in addition to being very beautiful to look at. Victoria Tennant is excellent as Pamela Tudsbury. (What happened to this actress?) Also fine are Peter Graves as Rhoda's love interest, Topol as Berel Jastrow, David Dukes as Leslie Slote, and Jeremy Kemp as General Armin von Roon.
Other than the above, the cast changes considerably between WOW and WAR, usually for the better:
Natalie Jastrow - This was one of two very important changes in cast. In WOW, Natalie is played by Ali McGraw, and she is the big exception to excellence I mentioned earlier. McGraw's acting is flat and artificial, and her delivery of dialogue is frequently stilted and just doesn't ring true. Also, she looks too old. Fortunately, Natalie's big moments in this series come in WAR, and here the outstanding Jane Seymour is in a different acting league from McGraw. Seymour combines vulnerability and fragility with an immense inner strength, particularly in the intense scenes in Theresienstadt. The final scene of the series, when Natalie is reunited with her son, is heartbreaking. Every one of Natalie's scenes in WAR rings true. One simply can't imagine Ali McGraw in this part in WAR.
Aaron Jastrow - John Houseman is perfectly acceptable in this part in WOW. Houseman is basically a one-note actor - the stern professor he played in "The Paper Chase" - but fortunately Aaron is a stern professor type, so this works OK in WOW. But in WAR Aaron is played by Sir John Gielgud, one of the great actors of the 20th century. This casting change is fortunate, because as with Natalie, Aaron's most intense and challenging scenes come in WAR, particularly in Theresienstadt. Gielgud brings a depth, a profound emotion and gravitas, to Aaron as he reverts more and more to his Jewish roots. Aaron Jastrow's final lecture, more a sermon, to the Jews in Theresienstadt is magnificent. This is one of the great portrayals in television history.
Byron Henry - played by Jan Michael Vincent in WOW and Hart Bochner in WAR. Both are very good. I would give Bochner the edge, but not by much.
Winston Churchill - both Howard Lang (WOW) and Robert Hardy (WAR) are excellent. My personal preference is for Lang.
Alastair Tudsbury - WOW's Michael Logan is good, but Robert Morley in WAR is absolutely delicious in the part. Morley's expressions, particularly his popping eyes, are frequently hilarious.
Adolf Hitler - both actors are excellent. Gunter Meisner (WOW) is very intense but also conveys an odd, shy charm at times, and a stillness, that those who encountered Hitler frequently commented on. Steven Berkoff (WAR) is more of a scenery chewer, but then at this later point in time Hitler himself was a real scenery chewer, so the over-the-top ranting is completely justified. Berkhoff lets us see Hitler's progressive mental breakdown and he has Hitler's hypnotic eyes.
All the other actors in the two series are at least good, and most are excellent.
In sum, I cannot recommend this miniseries - both parts - highly enough. Everyone should watch it.
War and Remembrance is essentially a history lesson that's told dramatically. The lesson, of course, is about the second part of World War II, the part that the United States was most actively involved in. That's the strength of the series, how well it deals with the history, and of showing the viewpoints of American, Russian, and German officers, and American, British, and German politicians. You saw all the sides in this, and the lesson was much the better for it. Were the points a bit obvious at times? Of course, but when you spend the kind of money they did on the series, you want to reach the broadest possible audience.
How does it compare with the book? Quite well really, the mini-series was long enough that relatively little was left out or compressed. There were little scenes here and there, but nothing major was on the cutting room floor. Does it help to have read the book first? That depends on if WWII history is your thing. If it's not, then reading the book is a great primer, long though the book is. But if you're contemplating a 25 hour mini-series, something tells me that length is not an issue for you.
The casting is always the key to any mini-series or long-form series (like Lost), and here it's a mixed bag. Dan Curtis, writer/director/producer/bossman cast Winds of War's characters almost uniformly too old for their parts, and while some of them are back for this one, some were either let go or chose not to come back. Those who are back include Robert Mitchum as Pug Henry, Polly Bergen as Rhoda Henry, Victoria Tennant as Pam Tudsbury, David Dukes as Leslie Slote, and Ralph Bellamy as Franklin Roosevelt. Bellamy to me is FDR, I can't read about him in history books without picturing Ralph's face. Likewise Polly Bergen was PERFECT as Rhoda, the then semi-retired actress just nailed it in every scene. Dukes was a great Leslie, the actor was taken from us far too early. And Mitchhum? Way too old for the part even in Winds of War, and the five year break in between did him no favors either (something he pointedly brought up to Curtis in between, telling him to hurry up with the W&R script). His romance with the much younger Tennant was a bit off putting as well, solid though she was. But Mitchum had a gravitas and depth that was badly needed for the role, and for that I can't bring myself to criticize him. His acting was certainly top notch, as always.
The newcomers? Jane Seymour replaces Ali MacGraw as Natalie Jastrow Henry, and while the acting is better, it's the age that really matters. MacGraw was 15 years older than the part and it really showed, though the character is the most frustrating of the books/series, behaving stupidly at almost every turn. Hart Bochner replaces Jan-Michael Vincent as Byron Henry, and the age is better, but Bochner isn't the Byron of the books, and is such a long way off that it's like they wrote the character to fit the actor, rather than hire an actor to fit a character. Vincent was a mess by this point, but I would have liked to have seen his take on things. John Gielgud replaces John Houseman (who was very sick when production began, and would soon pass away), and he fit Aaron Jastrow a little better for the Paradise Ghetto parts. I just couldn't see Houseman more or less becoming a rabbi, talented an actor though he was. Most of the minor parts were re-cast, including an amusing switch by where Barry Morse, who played the German banker Wolf Stoller in WoW, played German General Halder here. All in all the acting was an improvement, for the most part.
The extras? Well they're not bad, considering. They have a series of retrospective docs, with interviews with most of the surviving actors (Mitchum, Dukes, and Gielgud are among the actors who had passed on by this point), and a lot of Dan Curtis (who too has died since). Curtis does not lack for confidence, as the interviews will show, and it's totally necessary when you're shepherding a pair of nine figure mini-series to the screen, when $100 million meant a lot more in a budget than it does now. They cover as much as can be covered really, and take the place of an almost impossible to do commentary track, much as I would have liked to have listened to one. The video and audio quality are about what you would expect from a 20 year old series, and since I doubt they'll go the Blu-Ray route with either series, this is the best we're going to get.
The price? Awesome, for how much you get. I'd been waiting for the makers of the series to get reasonable with their pricing (they topped out at over $140 at one point), and now it's a great deal, especially for how long the mini-series is.
The myth is that W&R killed off the long form mini-series, as the ratings were only so-so for how much money was spent. Instead, I think that the genre has transferred to regular serielized TV dramas like Lost and Heroes. One long story, told over many hours, with a large cast. Not much difference really, if you think about it.