The History Channel has been pumping out series after series focusing on events that took place during World War II. While many of these feature a broader glimpse at the War, there are some that are much more focalized in terms of scope and content. The latest such effort is Battle 360, which premiered in February of this year. With ten episodes under its belt, the first season was something of a success and it has been collected onto a four disc DVD set.
Battle 360's main purpose is to focus on specific battles that took place during World War II. This isn't really something new by comparison to other WWII documentary series, but where this show does things differently is in its presentation. Rather than simply show still photos and stock footage, 360 provides computer generated reenactments of some of the most prolific engagements during World War II. The tone is set by a narrator and interviewees and there are some traditional archival clips peppered throughout, but for the most part everything looks like one big video game.
Having been a gamer myself for a number of years, it's fair to say that WWII has become saturated in that market. There are few things done with computers these days that haven't been done before with regards to the War. Because of that, and some dated looking graphics, 360 loses some of its edge. The representations of some conflicts and moments just don't look quite as good as they could have and because of that it appears a little cheesy at times. With that being said there are many scenes here and there that look very good due to dramatic camera angles and effects such as film grain that help lend some authenticity to the events. In this regard your mileage may vary depending upon your expectations. 360 does have many creative elements and when it's set with the narration and personal accounts of veterans it elevates the material and gives it some weight.
The episodes included here follow many of the battles from the moment Pearl Harbor was struck to the end of the War on the shores of Japan. More to the point, what 360 really focuses on is the involvement of the USS Enterprise and how pivotal the carrier and its crew were to winning the fight. The personal testimony of soldiers who served aboard the ship paint a great picture of what it was like to be there are that time and in their shoes. Some of the accounts depicted here help to elevate the Enterprise's stature even further, though I didn't think that was possible.
The first episode is "Call to Duty" which introduces the Enterprise, depicts the attack on Pearl Harbor, and moves on to the Marshall Islands and Doolittle Raids. From there "Vengeance at Midway" shows the Battle of Midway and the Solomon Islands, Guadalcanal and Santa Cruz are examined in "Jaws of the Enemy" and "Bloody Santa Cruz". The show goes on to chronicle the rest of Enterprise's conflicts such as the Gilbert Islands, the Battle of the Philippine Sea, the Battle of Leyte Gulf, and the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
The singular focus of Battle 360 is what helps the first season be so successful. Unlike other documentaries which give a much broader scope of the War, the focalized content here helps create a much more involved and personal story of the Enterprise and its crew. Combined with interviews, narrative accounts, and copious amounts of information, 360 really crafts the nitty-gritty details of what it was like for the Enterprise in the Pacific.
For better or worse the computer generated effects for Battle 360 are a big part in the series. Sometimes they are quite an asset with some fantastic artistry and a great flare for the dramatic, while at other times they hinder by looking tacky. The show can also be a tad sensationalized as well, which doesn't help in some cases. Whatever the case the show itself is successful with what it intends to do and because of that 360 is easily recommended for history buffs looking for another take on World War II. Each episode here has something to offer and by the end you'll hope that History Channel takes on another endeavor of this nature.
Like other History Channel shows of late Battle 360 is presented on DVD with cropped widescreen instead of an anamorphic one. I simply don't understand what they are thinking by doing this because as more and more people make the switch to HD sets their shows are just going to keep looking dated, despite their recent productions. Even so the picture quality here is pretty good all things considered. The interview segments present sharp details and natural colors and the graphics are nicely rendered and clean. Archival footage and photographs present loads of grain and wear from their age as you'd expect so in some regards this series looks like other documentary shows. All around it's a good looking show, but the cropped widescreen is really a letdown.
As a gamer, one thing that has become important is the sense of immersion in the thick of battle. Call of Duty and games of that ilk simply suck you in with 5.1 surround sound, making you feel like you're really there. Unfortunately Battle 360 doesn't do that for its battle sequences and reenactments. Instead the show is presented on DVD with 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo at 224 Kbps. In some ways it's not surprising due to the minimalist approach by History Channel and the fact that it's a documentary series. A surround mix would have been appreciated, but it's not entirely necessary in this case.
Battle 360's four DVD set includes a selection of bonus scenes on the final disc. Clocking in at a little over twenty-four minutes these scenes vary in terms of content and help flesh out some moments in the episodes further. Additional discussion about the making of the CGI sequences in the show is included here as well as more information on the Enterprise itself. There's nothing essential or groundbreaking presented in this collection of scenes, but once you're done watching the show it's nice to know that there are a few more clips to view.
Battle 360 is a fascinating documentary series from the History Channel that proves to be very modern. With CGI battle sequences and the focus on the exploits of the Enterprise, 360 has a presence on the screen that outdoes other documentaries about WWII. If you're looking for a different angle on the War or are just looking for a solidly produced documentary then this is one to check out. Some of the CGI effects aren't quite up to snuff and many are used over and over again, but it's the personal accounts that help paint the picture of what life was like aboard the Enterprise. As nice as the show is, History Channel really needs to step it up in terms of presentation of their DVDs.