WW II from Space – DVD Review
WW II from Space originally aired on the HISTORY television channel and is now available on a single DVD from Lionsgate. Produced by October Films, an independent production company in the UK, it includes interviews with such notables asPulitzerRichard Overy, author of How the Allies Won the War and Lieutenant General Raymond V. Mason, deputy chief of staff logistics; and James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., vice president of The Heritage Foundation, Foreign and Defense Policy Studies, as well as interviews with several veterans.
The program makes good use of VFX (visual effects that combine live-action footage and computer-generated imagery). Video game–like representations of battles are well done. Weapons such as the Japanese Zero fighter or German U-boat are displayed in rotating holographic views that look like something George Jetson’s boy Elroy might have used to study World War II in his futuristic classroom.
Statistical data and background information not usually found in television documentaries about the war also give the program a freshness. For example, the casualty ratio at Pearl Harbor is given as 57:1 in favor of the Japanese. This loss ratio is illustrated by Japanese and American helmets strewn about, a device sprinkled throughout the program but not overused. Viewers who have become inured to the same old images and information in Second World War documentaries are likely to be surprised frequently during this program, simply because it presents much data that will be new for all but hard-core WWII researchers. For that reason alone, it is worth watching.
The title, however, is WW II from Space, and that carries with it some expectations. The program’s promotional materials promise you’ll see the Second World War from a new visual perspective. Ironically, this is where the program is least satisfying.
Theoretically, seeing such things as the Atlantic and Pacific oceans from space will give the viewer a greater appreciation of the vast distances that had to be overcome, but in most instances the results are no better than could be obtained with a CGI globe image and animation, and a globe wouldn’t have all those clouds obscuring land masses. Indeed, when the program reverts to animated arrows on a globe, its visuals are generally easier to understand, if not as attractive. Likewise, the shots from space of battlefield areas are no more useful than a 3D map and at times a traditional map would be easier to interpret. The “WWII from space” angle is a curiosity and useful in marketing; it allows for some attractive backgrounds to the information, but it really doesn’t add much to the program.
In part, this is because the other elements of the program are so good that they overshadow what is essentially a gimmick, and these elements make WW II from Space well worth adding to your DVD collection. The visuals are satisfying and utilitarian. Unless you already do in-depth research into the Second World War, you are almost guaranteed to walk away from the program with new and meaningful information. Even if its “hook”—shots from space—isn’t all that impressive, this WWII documentary still gets a four and a half stars out of five.
Gerald D. Swick contributed several articles to ABC-CLIO’s The Encyclopedia of World War II: A Social, Political and Military History. He is senior editor of digital media for the Weider History Group.