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Blu-Ray Review: ‘WWII From Space’

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There was a time when the History cable network was known as the “Hitler Channel” because its schedule was so dominated by programming about the Second World War. Then, like many cable channels that have strayed far from their original mandates, the network discovered cheap reality shows, and now you’re more likely to see something like “Ice Road Truckers” on History than a WWII documentary.

The network hasn’t completely abandoned the historical documentary, however, and once in a while they’ll commission something like WWII From Space, originally broadcast in December, and now available on Blu-Ray.

Every World War II documentary features animated maps showing troop movements, but WWII From Space takes this a step farther, with computer-generated animation showing what famous battles would have looked like from the stratosphere. It’s a gimmick, but a pretty effective one. Some of the imagery is quite striking, such as American bombers viewing the flaming wreckage of Tokyo from 170 miles away, and the bitter Russian winter gradually enveloping the doomed Nazi invaders.

The program also features information I hadn’t previously known about the war, including the total disaster of the untested U.S. Army’s first battles in North Africa, and, especially shocking,  the thousands of Japanese civilians who committed mass suicide rather than surrender to the Americans. We also see the role that oil played in determining the events of the war, especially Hitler’s decision to invade the Soviet Union with the hope of seizing the Caspian oil fields.

Unfortunately, there’s only so much you can include in a two-hour special (including commercials), and besides the Battle of Britain and the siege of Stalingrad, WWII from Space mostly focuses on the American role in the conflict. (Curiously, the program was produced by a British production company, making me wonder if there’s a U.K.-centric cut in the vault.)

The show provides a decent overview of the Second World War for anyone not previously familiar with it, young students, in particular. But comparing it to World at War, still the gold standard of WWII documentaries, is like comparing a Buzzfeed list to a Ph.D dissertation.

Technical: Picture and sound (DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1) are very good, but there are no special features to be found on this Blu-Ray – unless you include trailers for other programs as “special features.” The disc does, however, automatically resume from where you stopped it before turning off your Blu-ray player – which takes care of my biggest pet peeve about my LG unit.

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