This was one of the first big 'television events.'
Originally airing in 1952-53 on NBC without
commercial interruption (for the first episode at least) Victory
at Sea is an impressive piece of television. With
a huge (for the time) budget of $500,000
the 26 half-hour episodes garnered many awards, including an Emmy and a
Award, and went on to establish documentaries as a practical, and
genre that TV audiences would accept.
This show was the first documentary to really search the
film archives of the world for footage from WWII. Their
researchers went to Russia,
Italy, and Japan
as other countries to find as much footage of naval battles, fleets,
as they could. Ultimately ending up with
an astounding 11,000 miles of film from all sides of the conflict, this
presents a very thorough look at the naval battles from all theaters of
Starting with the buildup of the German fleet and the early
battles in the North Atlantic, the
a complete discussion of the major conflicts that occurred at sea. From the attack on Pearl
Harbor that severely damaged the US Pacific fleet, to the
at Midway which cost the Japanese four aircraft carriers and D-Day, the
amphibious assault in history, the more well known battles are covered
extensively. The program is very
inclusive however, and lesser arenas are also examined such as the US defense of Alaska
and engagements in the South Atlantic
as the role that US submarines played in the war.
This is an excellent show, though it's clear that the
writers were still a product of their generation. The
narration often strays over to purple
prose just a bit, which makes the series feel a little dated, but it
also has a
bias that isn't seen is later documentaries such as the excellent The World at War. When the
show proclaims "for Fascism to
survive... it must kill" for example, it's clear that the feelings that
raged during the war were still present.
There are frequent references to "Japs" and "Huns" too, which
never fly in a documentary today. Of
course, this in and of itself, is an interesting historical data point
too. The flowery language and occasional
jab at the Axis powers don't really harm the show to any significant
The reason the show plays so well today is mainly due to the
extremely thorough nature of the program.
Even though it occasionally boils a complex situation down to a
simplistic sound bite, it always goes on to examine the event in more
and never just glosses over important events.
The film footage is very impressive too, and really brings
the topic to life. While a lot of it has
been reused in documentaries over the years, the impact of Kamikaze
flying into a battleship or hundreds of men storming a hostile beach
lessened at all. The score, composed by
Richard Rodgers (over "Rodgers and Hammerstein" fame) is sweeping and
majestic. It fits the subject matter
very well and adds a lot to the show.
The entire 26 episode series arrives on three Blu-ray discs
that are housed in a single-width Blu-ray case.
This is a hard show to rate.
Originally pieced together from a mixture of film footage (some
but mostly 16 mm or even 8 mm) most of which was shot under conditions
were about as far removed from ideal circumstances as you could have
create something watchable, the quality of the image varies quite a bit. This program is also in the public domain and
therefore hasn't received the preservation that it should have. The good news is that the good people at
Periscope Films have done a lot of work cleaning up the show and making
ready for its high definition debut. While
it's still not perfect, it does look good.
First off the preserved the original aspect ratio (1.37:1) which
right decision to make. There was only
so much they could do with a lot of the footage though, so don't expect
stunning HD image. The AVC 1080p picture
is a significant step up from the many pubic domain copies of the
are readily available. There is much
better contrast and sharpness and the blacks are improved.
There is still a lot of print damage, and
grain is a problem in some scenes. The
sections that are taken from lower gauge film are significantly softer
My only real complaint is that Periscope has imprinted a
'bug' a couple of times in each episode.
This is a small transparent image that pops up in the lower
of the image. While I understand the
need for such devices so that someone else doesn't steal their
work, it is annoying and I wish they had left it off.
The show only comes with a DD two channel mono mix.
While I'm not disappointed with the mono
audio, that's the way the show was created after all, I was hoping for
lossless mono option which is not present.
As it is, the audio has not undergone the extensive restoration
that image did, but it's still acceptable.
There are some dropouts and some light tape hiss in the
the narration is clear and the music, while it doesn't have the dynamic
would have liked, sounds fine for the most part.
The set also includes a commentary track for episode 6 (Guadalcanal)
with Dr. Peter Rollins, and an interview with him on the final disc
a little over half an hour. He gives a
lot of information about this series in general, and this episode in
particular. It was interesting time and
I'm glad Periscope went to the trouble and expense to include it. There's also a .pdf file of a publicity
booklet that was used to promote the program when it originally aired.
This is a great series and Periscope has done a good job
restoring it. While it's not perfect, it
is better than the many public domain copies floating around. This is an important documentary, it could be
argued that this is the father of all TV documentaries, as well as
informative and engrossing. Highly
images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc and do not
represent the image quality on the disc.