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The World At War Blu-Ray

With a lot of money invested in restoration, the acclaimed World War II series comes to blu-ray in a set that certainly will be on the minds of history buffs this holiday.  But before you shell out over a $100 on this set, there are few things to consider.  First, the original aspect ratio of 4:3 (made for 70’s television) has been changed to 16X9 for widescreen viewing.  While that means you won’t have to put up with those black bars along the sides of the picture in your home theater, it also means that the footage is up closer than originally shot, bringing out grain, flaws, and cutting off parts of heads in the process and is “affectionately” known in the industry as “pan and scan”, which sends videophiles through the roof in outrage.  

While I didn’t mind the fact that a lot of empty sky from old war footage was edited, and that most of this process was supervised and was “intelligently” scanned, I did find other flaws that deeply disappointed me in this set.

The programs all consist of war footage with voice over narration from Laurence Olivier and from participants in the events shown. The footage of these participants, including Hitler’s private secretary, British and German top strategists and generals, regular GI’s, and civilians was captured in the 70’s in color and gives a powerful accounting of the events, from those that lived through it,  which no other television series has ever done.

My problems with this set all come from the restoration job done with the series. While I could put up with the pan and scan, I could not forgive the restoration errors that appear throughout the interview footage.  The last disc in the set goes into great detail about how the restoration job was accomplished and how they cleaned up the old war footage, taking out film flaws, but a lot still remain.  They explained that they couldn’t take out some because it would have distorted the picture too much, which I can understand.  Also, the footage is old, shot on poor stock to begin with and you really can’t expect war footage to look flawless or without grain.  However, the 70’s interview footage  has an amazing amount of dust spots which it seems was completely overlooked by the restoration process.  In one scene, the dust spots are there, and in the following scene, during the same interview, everything is cleaned up nicely.  It’s seems like the restoration team really overlooked the entire cleanup process when it came to the interview footage.  Just to make sure this wasn’t just a flaw in one episode, I looked at quite a few in the series and it was the same with every one.

So can I recommend this set?  The “World At War” is the best documentary series on World War II that has ever been produced so I can certainly recommend it to every history buff out there but I truly believe the restoration process was not nearly as good as it could have been.  If you have the dvd set, I’d hang on to it and maybe wait for a very large discount before considering the blu-ray set.

November 28, 2010 - Posted by | Blu-Ray review | , , , ,

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