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 Peabody Award, and went on to establish documentaries as a practical, and profitable, 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
Starting with the buildup of the German fleet and the early battles in the
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 would 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 degree however.
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 detail 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 pilot's flying into a battleship or hundreds of men storming a hostile beach hasn't 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 Blu-ray Disc: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 35 mm but mostly 16 mm or even 8 mm) most of which was shot under conditions that were about as far removed from ideal circumstances as you could have and still 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 it 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 was the right decision to make. There was only so much they could do with a lot of the footage though, so don't expect a stunning HD image. The AVC 1080p picture is a significant step up from the many pubic domain copies of the series that 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 too.
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 right corner of the image. While I understand the need for such devices so that someone else doesn't steal their restoration 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 a lossless mono option which is not present. As it is, the audio has not undergone the extensive restoration that that image did, but it's still acceptable. There are some dropouts and some light tape hiss in the background, but the narration is clear and the music, while it doesn't have the dynamic range I would have liked, sounds fine for the most part.
The set also includes a commentary track for episode 6 (
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 being informative and engrossing. Highly Recommended.
Note: The images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc and do not necessarily represent the image quality on the disc.