Documentaries have a long history of playing fast and loose with data, but facts and figures don’t lie; and that’s what’s mostly brilliant about the History Channel’s latest review of all things World War II, titled “WWII From Space.” To their credit, this A&E Television Networks production relies heavily on the presentation of the grim, harsh reality (namely dates and death tolls for all nations involved), so it thankfully skirts the current trend of ‘historical revisionism’ that plagues so many other programs. Add to that the fact that they’ve incorporated a very high tech, state-of-the-art visual presentation style, and you’ve got yourself a winner.
For the record, if this is what it takes to get today’s youth interested in legitimate history again, then so be it. Out of its 90 minutes, 85 of them are solid and free from the progressive politicization of what truly went down. What about those remaining 5 minutes? Well, you’re smart; you figure it out.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last two paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the press materials: “Get an all-new perspective on history when WWI FROM SPACE arrives on Blu-ray Disc and DVD May 7 from Lionsgate Home Entertainment. Featuring stunning CGI and riveting historical details, this HISTORY special looks into America’s part in World War II – from a new angle.”
For the record (and not like I needed to spell it out any further), this ‘new angle’ is from space. What you basically get is what war satellite imagery would probably have looked like if we’d had that technology available to us at the time. Yes, it’s a gimmick – a clever trick of light and shadow, along with a wealth of CGI longitude and latitude lines. To be perfectly frank, I found some of it more than a bit distracting, though the CGI creations of battlefronts from high overhead (not so much from space as they are, perhaps, from a mile up) are stunning to watch. These sequences, however, don’t account for a great amount of additional footage to the entire piece, but they are a sight to behold. While I don’t think it really re-defines WWII in any major way, it still pushes the narrative into a direction embraced by modern audiences; for that, we can all be thankful.
I’d be remiss in my duties of critical analysis if I didn’t point out, though, that the last five minutes of the piece do attempt to raise the usual ethical/moral considerations about the U.S.’s “controversial” use of atomic weapons to bring the war to its swift close. Even after presenting much of the hard, cold facts of the Japanese way of fighting (mass civilian suicides instead of surrendering or being captured; kamikaze bombing instead of escaping to fight another day; the ratio of Americans killed versus Japanese killed being tilted in Japan’s favor; etc.), the narrator somehow still feels it necessary to bring up a few experts who question whether or not Eisenhower made the proper choice. It’s easy to do that – Monday morning quarterbacking – especially now that nearly seventy years have passed. Perhaps any decision made would’ve received as much scrutiny; still, I think the better question gets asked by quickly brushed over with little further exploration. “What if we had the technology to end the war and we didn’t use it?” What would history think of us then, eh?
WWII FROM SPACE was produced by the History Channel, A&E Networks, and Lionsgate. DVD distribution is being handled through Lionsgate. As for the technical specifications, no expense has been spared in delivery the best quality sound and images to this work, though – as I said above – I’m the first to point out some of the technical wizardry on the screen left me a bit cold; at times, it’s an almost clinical depiction of some stunning atrocities. As is often the case with some of these releases, there are no special features included on the disc.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Much of WWII FROM SPACE benefits from the “just the facts, ma’am” approach employed consistently throughout. There’s not much new here except for the techie presentation (CGI and other dimensionally-flavored graphics), and I’ve no doubt that’ll go a long way toward jazzing up the material for modern audiences. This old dog didn’t so much need the new trick, but I appreciated the effort nonetheless.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Lionsgate provided me with an advance DVD copy of WWII FROM SPACE by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.