Given the abhorrent nature of Hitler's Nazi regime, it goes without saying, it's not terribly difficult to imagine anyone feeling a sense of repulsion at a documentary that would paint a combatant from the Axis side of the war in a positive light. Yet, if history has properly shown us, not every soldier shares his the ideology of those higher above him and when you boil things down to their most basic levels, two soldiers from opposite sides of the line may have much more in common than one might imagine. While Hollywood may have shown this in "Das Boot," The Military Channel's "Missions That Changed the War" accomplishes the reality with their four-part, three-hour miniseries on the life and career of Günther Rall, in "Germany's Last Ace." As with the previous miniseries under the "Missions That Changed the War" banner, Gary Sinise serves as narrator, while a handful of historians and more importantly when possible, the actual people who lived the history tell the tale to viewers.
The initial episode of "Germany's Last Ace" sets the tone for the remainder of series and really drives home the reality to anyone still under the faulty notion that all German military personnel were Nazis. Thankfully, at the time of production, Günther Rall was alive to tell his own tale and for a man in his late 80s to early 90s at the time, was incredibly spry and quick witted. Rall's tale begins as an average German, who in turn prior to World War II doesn't seem that far removed from the average Midwestern American. What's made abundantly clear though, is Rall's enrollment in the military was out of pride for his country and not a love for Adolf Hitler nor Nazi ideology, which Rall goes on to mention was actually forbidden by the military (that is any form of political discussion). Historians also chime in to provide context for the mindsets of many Germans during Hitler's rise to power, prior to the invasion of Poland and the ignition of World War II. The bottom line remains, Günther Rall was not a Nazi, merely a soldier fighting for his country, one that happened to be a damn good pilot.
It's no shock that the parallel tale of Hubert "Hub" Zemke is told intertwined with Rall's rise to glory. Zemke's origins share striking similarities in terms of motivation and pride in one's country, with both men eventually reaching historical fame for their actions in the skies above the European front. While Zemke's exploits with the (then) revolutionary P-47 are documented as are his leading of "Zemke's Wolfpack" or the 56th Fighter Group, in which Zemke would earn his "ace" status, the heart of the program remains the incredible tale of Rall whose World War II career would take him from such historical events as the Battle of Britain to Operation Barbarossa (covered extensively in one episode). In all, Rall would find himself shot out of the sky eight separate times; even after suffering life threatening injuries and meeting the love of his life, Rall would get back into the cockpit, amassing 275 air victories and cementing his place in history as the third greatest "ace."
"Germany's Last Ace" is a finely produced, quickly paced miniseries that maintains a high degree of integrity lost in most modern historical programming. It's far from an exhaustive, technical program; instead it aims itself at a broad viewership and will most likely act as the bridge for the uninformed but curious and their quest to learn more through other means, be it additional documentaries or the printed page. This program marks the second of three miniseries that "Missions That Changed the War" has released and if the track record continues, then their coverage of "The Flying Tigers" is bound to be a must see as well.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is well enough serviceable for the series' nature. Colors are on the warm side and a bit intense, while there's some mild artifacting. Detail is on the average side, although archival footage looks quite striking.
The Dolby Digital English stereo audio track is clean and well balanced, pushing the thematic music to the background when appropriate and ensuring neither narration nor interview dialogue fight one another for the spotlight. English SDH subtitles are included.
The bonus features include an interview with historian Dr. Kurt Braatz, a timeline of the events of May 1944, and a text-based overview of Günther Rall's life.
Covering both clinical historical facts peppered with objective analysis, the true meat of "Germany's Last Ace" comes in the story of Günther Rall himself, told by the main in the flesh. It's the rare portrait of an enemy combatant getting a chance at being humanized; we don't have to like who Rall fought for, but at minimum we can understand and respect the reasons he did (pride in one's country, not racist ideology, for they are very much the same some of our own nations heroes fought. Highly Recommended.