WWII From Space – Blu-ray
Release Date: May 7, 2013
Genre: Documentary, History
Rated: Not Rated
Reviewed by Mark Smith
Review Score: 4 of 5
I’m not a big fan of documentaries but every now and then something on Netflix will grab my attention, and on a few rare instances we even get a chance to review these “educational” DVD’s. When I was first approached about doing the review for WWII From Space I was pretty excited, both because I’m a big fan of WWII in general; historically, movies, books, video games…you name it, and the prospect of seeing this monumental conflict played out from orbit sounded exceptionally cool. Let me tell you, this is without a doubt one of the most unforgettable and informative documentaries I’ve ever viewed. I learned more in 90 minutes than I did in all of my high school history classes combined, and it even gave me new insight into other films like Pearl Harbor, Saving Private Ryan, and Letters from Iwo Jima.
As I watched the entirety of WWII from the attack on Pearl Harbor to the Hiroshima nuke and everything in-between being recreated and played out in stunning CG animations I couldn’t help but think that with today’s technology we could probably be watching our current wars being played out from orbit in near-real-time. The History Channel has done a remarkable job of taking a whole lot of potentially boring dates, stats, and maps and presenting them in a dynamic high-tech method that will appeal to both history buffs and those from the video game generation. In fact, many of the orbital views, animated troop arrows, and win-loss ratio “score screens” look like something you would see between sessions of Call of Duty or Battlefield.
The narrator never lets you forget the space theme as he frequently prefaces each new block of data or fresh installment in the timeline with the words, “When viewed from space…” followed by a pristine NASA quality recreation of the globe with various cloud cover and geographic boundaries soon to be layered with all sorts of moving arrows and shaded regions of control. From time to time we dive down to a few thousand feet to watch CG recreations of land, air, and sea battles as we cover every facet of warfare used in this major conflict. Detailed blueprint screens will pop-up showing 3D rotating models that will explode to show various components of everything from a wolf pack submarine and troop truck to a Panzer tank and a P-51 Mustang.
WWII From Space moves along at a refreshingly brisk pace, encompassing all the pivotal moments from WWII and going into just enough detail without lingering too long on any single event. Most moments follow the formula of a global satellite view followed by maps, stats, and the occasional interview with a modern day war authority and in some cases, actual survivors from the original event. While I could have easily consumed another 90 minutes of this unique style of information delivery, for a single sitting, this was the perfect length and pace for the material covered.
The 1080p AVC presentation is a mix of interview footage, futuristic NASA style imagery, and some stunning CG battle recreations of everything from Pearl Harbor to D-Day. The orbital screens and maps have this unique electronic look that gives the impression you are viewing secured military transmissions inside mission control. Oddly enough there is some odd blue and red separation going on in the map screens that almost looks like it would be in 3D if you had some of those old red/blue 3D glasses. This quest for style sadly takes away a noticeable portion in the clarity.
The lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix is a bit underutilized in this feature that is mostly a mix of narration and in-your-face interviews. The closest we ever get to the actual recreated action is usually from hundreds or thousands of feet so there isn’t much opportunity for immersive battle sounds in the surround channels. LFE is all but absent, even when we drop the nuke to end the war.
There are no extras on the WWII From Space Blu-ray, although the concept of a documentary about a documentary seems almost like a paradox. Still, I would have enjoyed seeing how they turned all of this raw data into something so visually compelling.
WWII From Space is one of my all-time favorite documentaries to date. I loved the high-tech, almost-videogame like spin they put on the maps and top-down battle views. This is a great learning tool that will enhance, if not replace, all of those boring dates and events they make you memorized in high school. For only $15 you can add this to your Blu-ray library, and with exceptional HD video and quality narrated audio, it is almost certainly better than waiting to watch this on TV or Netflix. I highly recommend to anyone who is interested in seeing WWII from a unique perspective.