Heroes of World War II: Hosted by Walter Cronkite
Koch Entertainment // Unrated // $39.98 // June 24, 2003
Review by Matthew Millheiser | posted September 17, 2003
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The Movie

I recently was watching Kubrick's masterpiece Paths of Glory, arguably his most emotionally resonant work but assuredly one of the finest and most gripping anti-war films ever made. But the polemics of the film aside, one theme is abundantly clear throughout Paths of Glory: the generals and high-ranking officers may become the legendary figures of war, but it is the common soldier, sailor, and airman that pays the ultimate coin in blood. Thousands upon thousands lay down their lives so that millions can live, the stunningly incomprehensible price of war.

Heroes of World War II is a four-part, three-hour documentary dedicated to those men who served, shed blood, and gave their lives on the front lines. Hosted by Walter Cronkite, the preeminent television news personality of the Twentieth Century, Heroes of World War II is not a comprehensive look at World War II, nor does it even pretend to be. The documentary instead focuses on four distinct areas of the conflict, utilizing archival footage and first-person interviews with many of the men who served in those theaters to demonstrate what these situations must have been like for these individuals. The interview segments and war footage are linked throughout by Cronkite's authoritative and reassuring narration.

Heroes of World War II is a relatively short but ultimately compelling documentary. If I can criticize anything – and I will – it is only that there are so many historical facets of World War II to be explored vis-à-vis the thousands of servicemen who experienced it on a day-to-day basis that I would love to see this series expanded into an ongoing series. But the information included here is invaluable and fascinating material for history buffs everywhere.

Heroes of World War II is presented in a two-DVD set and is divided into four programs:

        I.      The Attack on Pearl Harbor

     II.      The Battle for the Pacific

   III.      The War in Europe

  IV.      The Air War

The DVD

Video:

Heroes of World War II was produced for television and is featured in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The documentary primarily features historical and archival footage combined with contemporary taped interviews with World War II veterans. The archival footage varies in quality: some of the footage looks fairly well, while most is of pretty shaky quality and some are just downright awful. Of course, the DVD presents the original source material warts-and-all, and the presentation is fairly reasonable. The taped footage looks acceptable, with some occasional video noise but generally seeming smooth and well rendered.

Audio:

The audio is presented in monaural Dolby Digital 2.0, and is nothing that will knock your socks off, but it does a very acceptable job in serving the material. Dialog levels sound natural and free of limiting distortion, clipping, or hiss. Orchestrations are warm and well-rendered if limited by the narrowness of the fidelity. Overall it's a fine presentation of television-related material.

Extras:

Both discs contain Rare Archival Footage in the form of "United News" newsreels, both combined running slightly over one-hour in running time. I've always been fascinating by newsreels, and this footage is a welcome and informative addition. KochVision Online provides links to the KochVision website.

Final Thoughts

A sober and reverential look at World War II servicemen, Heroes of World War II is a compelling three-hour look into the personal reflections of the most significant conflict of the Twentieth Century. As a DVD set, this release is a little light on the extras but the documentary is well presented. The material contained within Heroes of World War II is informative and a boon for those with a passion for contemporary history. It might not be one of the best World War II documentaries out there, but it remains a quality production throughout.



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