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BBC History of World War II
BBC History of World War II
Genres: Television, Documentary, Military & War
NR     2005     30hr 0min

How could a political party as fundamentally evil and overtly racist as the Nazis come to power? Why was Japan, known for its admirable treatment of POWs in WWI, responsible for such grim atrocities in the Second World War...  more »


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Movie Details

Genres: Television, Documentary, Military & War
Sub-Genres: Television, World War II, Military & War
Studio: BBC Warner
Format: DVD - Color - Closed-captioned
DVD Release Date: 07/19/2005
Release Year: 2005
Run Time: 30hr 0min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 12
SwapaDVD Credits: 12
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 0
Edition: Box set
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English
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Member Movie Reviews

Steve L. (tmcpac) from JACKSON, OH
Reviewed on 4/21/2009...
If you are a WWII or a history buff this is a set you need. Produced by the BBC it offers a complete history of WWII in the BBC Style.
I think this is the best, most complete history of WWII available.

Movie Reviews

Ad-hoc collection... But excellent documentaries nonetheless
dooby | 09/17/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)

"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)."
Caveat Emptor
I. Martinez-Ybor | Miami, FL USA | 11/06/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)

"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."
Not the best....
Jim in L.A. | Los Angeles,CA USA | 06/07/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)

"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."