As a slimmed-down history of Nazi-ruled Germany during the 1930s and 1940s, The Third Reich offers a stylish and engaging look at the rise and fall of a nation. Comprised entirely of vintage film clips shot by Russian troops, journalists, German citizens and others, it's a visual tour-de-force of a terrifying era. Divided into two 90-minute halves ("The Rise" and "The Fall", each given their own DVD), The Third Reich reminds viewers of the horrors of war, the dangers of a totalitarian government and the fragility of human life.
"The Rise" makes a bold statement early on, but it doesn't quite follow through. It promises not to be "an account of Hitler's rise to power, but the story of why the people gave it to him"...but really, it's an account of Hilter's rise to power. The "why" is never explained very well: it's assumed, of course, that his meteoric rise from WWI veteran to Führer was simply due to his iron will, ruthless political tactics and charismatic presence. In any case, what's here is still invaluable: we're told the story of a nation hit hard by The Great Depression, Hitler's failed presidential campaign in 1932 and his appointment as Chancellor just one year later. From there, Hitler's dominance was assured by Germany's Enabling Act---and with it came the forced control of his Nazi political party. The Nazis opposed democracy, communism, Jews, homosexuals, the mentally handicapped and those who weren't from northwestern Europe. In short, even those Germans who opposed the Nazi regime still had to follow Hitler's lead...or suffer the consequences.
"The Fall" mostly chronicles WWII from 1939 through 1945, after Germany invaded Poland under false pretenses. The German Army was nearly unstoppable during the first few years, conquering much of Europe; raw materials were stolen for Germany's benefit and foreigners were used as slave labor. Their attempted invasion of The Soviet Union, however, proved to be too much: the Germans eventually faced tremendous losses as Allied forces began to gain momentum, leading to increasing air attacks on Germany itself. As WWII---and, of course, The Third Reich---came to a close, Hitler committed suicide. Yet "The Fall" (and "The Rise", of course) give us more than a brief history of these events: through home movie footage, newsreels and narration, we get much more of a "you are there" feeling during The Third Reich, which proves to be quite effective.
As a whole, this two-part documentary has a habit of repeating its formula a few times, but it definitely earns points for painting a more stylized picture. There are no "talking head" interviews during the three-hour presentation---and even though a few segments of the more traditional narration are a bit melodramatic, The Third Reich certainly does more right than wrong. Originally airing on The History Channel, this two-disc package is relatively slim but still worth looking into. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio (as it should be, since all of the footage was shot in the 1930s and 1940s), The Third Reich looks good with a few mild reservations. The color palette, image detail and contrast are about as good as the source material will allow, and it looks as if the image hasn't been cleaned up much. The latter suits this documentary's presentation style, though: even the on-screen "chapter breaks" are meant to look rough and unpolished. The only nagging issues are notable levels of ghosting and compression artifacts, which do become a bit distracting at times.
The English 2.0 Surround mix (with burned in English subtitles for translation) also doesn't aim high, but it still gets the job done. Most of the footage appears to have been supplemented by sound effects---since most of it was recorded without sound, no doubt---and these effects come through clean and clear. Occasional music cues also sound decent without fighting for attention with voice-over segments. Closed Captions are included, but they have a bad habit of covering up the burned-in subtitles.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen above, the plain-wrap menu designs provide easy, trouble-free navigation. Each of the 90-minute "halves" are divided into 10 chapters, while no obvious layer changes were detected during playback. This two-disc Region 1 release is housed in a standard black hinged keepcase and includes no promotional inserts of any kind.
No extras have been included. Although the documentary stands fairly well on its own, I would've loved to see an interview with the filmmakers or even a few deleted scenes.
Gripping and briskly paced despite its 180-minute running time, The Third Reich is an interesting and informative production from start to finish. Though history buffs may not learn anything new, it's great to see such a massive collection of personal footage put to good use. This two-disc package is strictly a no-frills affair; we get a decent technical presentation but nothing in the way of extras. Still, The Third Reich a solid choice for documentary fans and fairly priced at well under $25. Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects, teaches art classes at a local gallery and runs a website or two in his spare time. He also enjoys slacking off, telling lame jokes and writing stuff in third person.