World War II 360 is a collection of previously released material that in no way differs from those previous releases outside of the fact that it's in a different box. The content on the discs is identical to what came before, from the transfers to the audio mix to the middling amount of supplemental material. So with that said, what is this stuff? The two World War II themed 360 series that have aired so far on The History Channel are similar to the WII In HD release that came out last year in that they combine archival footage with recently shot interviews, though this time around there are some computer generated bits and pieces thrown in to add a certain context when the shows call for it.
The two series that make up World War II 360 are Battle 360 and Patton 360 and they play out as follows...
This first series follows the U.S.S. Enterprise, which was the only aircraft carrier in the entire Second World War to see serious action in every major naval battle in the Pacific Ocean. The Enterprise was based out of the Puget Sound Naval Yard where it was periodically repaired, upgraded and refitted to keep it in the best fitting shape that it could be in. An absolutely massive warship by anyone's standard, since the ship was in such regular use during the conflict, it tended to get repaired quite often as Japanese Kamikaze pilots found it to be a popular target.
Battle 360 follows the Enterprise from the events that occurred in Pearl Harbor and ushered American forces into the vicious war that was occurring on the other side of the planet, through to its various naval battles right through to the end of the war where it lay off the coast of Japan where American forces brought the war to an end. Over four years, this remarkable ship, a veritable floating city, was home to many brave men, quite a few of whom are here to share some of their stories of bravery and sacrifice. It's hard not to feel for these men as they recount some absolutely terrifying stories and it makes what they did for their country all the more appreciable.
There are ten episodes that make up Battle 360, and they are presented in chronological order as follows:
Call To Duty / Vengeance At Midway / Jaws Of The Enemy / Bloody Santa Cruz / Enterprise Vs. Japan / The Grey Ghost / Hammer Of Hell / D-Day In The Pacific / Battle Of Leyte Gulf / The Empire's Last Stand
Using the aforementioned archival footage and interviews to flesh things out, computers come into play to show us how the various people in charge of the Enterprise and some of her fellow naval warships used different strategies to dominate the South Pacific Ocean and fend of advancing Japanese forces at various intervals. There's quite a bit of focus given to the famous Battle Of Midway and to D-Day but as the series is quite epic in scope, it quite cleverly takes the time to make sure that those personal stories from those who were there get as much screen time as they need as well. Ultimately, anyone with an interest in or appreciation for warships or military history ought to really appreciate the detail and scope of this project which is consistently well done throughout and will have no problems whatsoever holding your attention.
With the first 360 series covering some of the naval battles that America was involved in, it's only fair that the second one pay tribute to those who served on the ground. The focus of this second batch of episodes, as you could probably gather from the title, is on the various campaigns overseen by General George Patton. The series begins with Patton's work in North Africa as he and his troops were tasked with chasing Rommel through the continent and stopping the Nazi forces from taking the land. From there, was we follow his career through campaigns in the Southern part of Europe and into France, we learn more about the man behind the four stars by way of some great historical clips and interviews with some of the men who served under him.
As it was with the Battle 360 series, Patton 360 puts an emphasis on strategy and how important it was to winning a campaign. We learn about his methodology of war, his way of thinking things out and his different tactics. While this isn't quite a biographical piece in the traditional sense of the word, we also learn quite a bit about Patton as a man and who various events shaped him as a person. His well known and well documented temper comes into play here and there and there are some really interesting and revealing stories told by those who experienced him first hand. We also learn how Patton tended to take experience he had garnered from mistakes he had made and turn them into valuable lessons, essentially turning a loss into a future victory.
As with the first series, Patton 360 plays out in chronological order in ten parts as follows:
Blood And Guts / Rommel's Last Stand / Baptism Of Blood / Rogue General / American Blitzkrieg / Leading The Charge / On Hitler's Doorstep / Siege Warfare / Battle Of The Bulge / Crushing The Third Reich
Aside from the lessons in war strategy we also delve into Patton's regular headbutting competitions with his superior officers, how he had a tendency to do things his own way, and how he had a bit of an unofficial rivalry with Britain's top ground troops leader, Marshal Montgomery. All in all, the series does a really great job of not just documenting Patton's life but explaining the significance and importance of what he did during the years he served and how his actions would go on to shape military strategy in the years to come. He's not always painted as a saint here, nor should he be, and the series gives us enough focus on the man rather than the myth to make sure that we realize that, but that doesn't take away from his accomplishments.
Ultimately, both of the ten part series that make up World War II 360 are really well done. Experts on either subject may pick things apart and declare that certain aspects should have received less or more attention than they do but the people behind these projects have put a lot of effort into them and it shows. The collection of archival footage is pretty astounding in and of itself but the interviews from survivors really go a long way towards fleshing out the human side of war and add a very personal touch to the material. The computer graphics aren't over used and while the series does sometimes tend to be edited a little too quickly in certain ways, resulting in some battle scenes that feel a little on the choppy side, at the same time they do (presumably) go some ways towards reflecting the chaos of the battlefield.
Of course, this series is going to appeal to WWII buffs and history buffs more than your average Joe, but you don't have to be obsessed with the material to appreciate it. There's almost eighteen hours worth of material in this set when it's all said and done, and the attention to detail and human interest aspect of these war stories makes then consistently interesting.
Both series are presented in AVC encoded 1.78.1 1080p high definition widescreen and look about as good as the various source material are going to allow for. Some of the newer computer graphics used to illustrate various points can look a bit soft but colors come through nicely here, while the archival footage varies in quality from scene to scene. Sometimes the film clips look excellent and show great detail and definition, other times they are riddled with print damage and dirt. As such, the transfers here are a bit erratic, though the inconsistencies are at least understandable given that the production teams can only do so much with some of the older footage. The biggest drawback is that some, though not all, of the fullframe archival footage has been horizontally stretched a bit to fill the 1.78.1 frame. Ideally this material would have been matted on the sides but that didn't happen so sometimes you will notice that things look a little bit off in this regard. The newer interview footage, which was all shot for 1.78.1, looks very good but the stretching of the older clips is distracting and it occurs throughout both Battles 360 and Patton 360.
English language DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo mixes are provided for both series and they sound fine, though you can't help but wish a 5.1 track had been supplied for the various battles that are shown here as some rear channel activity would have gone a long way towards filling things out more effectively. That said, as far as the 2.0 track goes, there's some good left to right directional effects and if bass isn't as strong as you might want it to be you're definitely going to notice it during certain scenes. The levels are well balanced and dialogue is always clean and clear. The narrated segments sound great, often times with some nice musical accompaniment behind them - there aren't any problems here, all of the material sounds quite good.
Battles 360 has only one extra feature, outside of the menus and chapter stops. Found on the third disc is a half hour long making of documentary that shows how the CG footage was created and worked in with the historical footage and interview segments to create the series we have as part of the feature presentation. It's interesting and worth watching if you have an interest in such things. Patton 360 has only menus and chapter stops and contains no actual extra content on either one of its two discs.
If you've already got the individual releases, there's no reason to bother with this set as it adds nothing new, but if you didn't pick those up and have an interest in the subject matter, definitely consider World War II 360 worth your while. The video quality is understandably erratic given the source material and the extras are slim, but the content itself is fascinating and very well put together. You get a lot of material here and at a fair price - recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.