To mark the 100-year anniversary of the First World War, The History Channel aired mini-series titled The World Wars (2014) in May. The three-part docudrama has just been released to Blu-ray, and offers a unique and compelling look at the events of 1914 to 1945. The scope of the series is summarized with the opening quote from Sir Winston Churchill: “One must regard these 30 years of strife, turmoil and suffering in Europe as part of one story…One story of a 30 years’ war.”
In looking at the period as one long war, we see how the events conspired to ignite the deadliest conflict in human history. The story is told by using a mix of archival footage, interviews with dozens of experts, and staged scenes. Key players such as Churchill, Benito Mussolini, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, George S. Patton, Douglas MacArthur, Josef Stalin, Hideki Tojo and Adolf Hitler are portrayed by younger and older actors as the years progress.
“Trial by Fire” covers the years 1914-1923, beginning with assassination of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and closing with Hitler writing Mein Kampf in jail. “A Rising Threat” picks up in 1929 with the crash of the US stock market, and ends with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. “Never Surrender” is devoted to the remaining years of WWII, from late 1941 to the Japanese surrender in 1945. Each episode runs approximately 90 minutes, for a total of four-and-a-half hours.
What sets The World Wars apart from the hundreds of other treatments of this period is the way it follows the key figures’ lives through the years. We see Hitler as a failed artist who joined the German army in 1914 as a last resort. Mussolini had been a journalist preaching pacifism before joining the Italian army. Churchill was humiliated at Gallipoli in 1915, and it looked as if his career was over. Roosevelt’s prospects looked very promising, until he was stricken with polio in 1921.
Those are just a few examples of the many leaders’ lives that are followed through The World Wars. To see all that happened through the eyes of these men offers a unique perspective, and a way of putting some context into the horrors of the period.
There are three bonus features. “Characters in Depth” focuses on six of the major players in the series: Churchill (four minutes), Stalin (four minutes), Roosevelt (five minutes), Hitler (five minutes), Harry Truman (four minutes) and Dwight Eisenhower (four minutes).
The “Featurettes” segment contains ten shorts, all primarily concerned with World War I. These include “WWI: One Word” (three minutes), “Tech Developments of WWI” (three minutes), “Life in a Trench” (three minutes), “The US in WWI” (four minutes), “Did WWI Lead to WWII?” (three minutes), “The Legacy of WWI” (three minutes), “WWI: Global Connections” (four minutes), “One Thing You Should Know About WWI” (four minutes), “Nationalism and WWI” (three minutes), and “Harlem Hellfighters” (six minutes).
Finally there is a large selection of “Deleted Scenes” from each episode. All together, these add up to an additional hour of running time. There are ten deleted scenes from “Trial by Fire” (20 minutes), six from “A Rising Threat,” (17 minutes), and nine from “Never Surrender” (22 minutes). Besides the two discs, the set also includes an Ultraviolet code for other viewing options.
The World Wars contains two Blu-ray discs with a video resolution of 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 displayed at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The only audio option is English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. All of the newly staged material and interviews look good, although many of the scenes are a bit dark. As is generally the case in these situations, the archival material shows its age as it was filmed under battle conditions.
When The World Wars first aired on The History Channel in May 28, the complaint was that too much was left out. It is hard to argue that point, as it would be impossible to get it all in a four-and-a-half hour mini-series. I understand the criticism, but do not agree with it. My children are both in their twenties now, and have grown up with the ever-quickening pace of the Internet as part of their lives. The attitude with Millennials towards history seems to be “Who cares?”
If The World Wars gets their attention, then maybe they will look deeper into the period, and heaven knows there is plenty of truly in-depth material available for further study. With that caveat in mind, I recommend this Blu-ray set. What was set in motion a century ago can never be forgotten.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00KFNF2T6]