D-Day’s Sunken Secrets Is Another Important Chapter In The History Of WWII

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

PBS’ NOVA: D-Days Sunken Secrets is another invaluable program for anyone that has any interest in the history of World War II or in military history in general.  As informative as the program is, one can’t help but note that it perhaps could have benefitted from a different title.  That’s because most of the program focuses more on the operations of Operation Overlord than on the sunken remnants of the Normandy invasion.  That isn’t to say that that moment in time is completely avoided.  But it doesn’t focus on that aspect near as much as one might be led to believe by the program’s title.  That aside, it is still an interesting piece of World War II history that adds yet another chapter to one of the biggest operations in military history that might otherwise not have been known by some.  And that’s just the beginning.  Audiences will be interested, too to discover that the program’s narrator is himself a WWII veteran who was also there on D-Day.  And last to note is the use of vintage footage against modern video of Normandy today to help illustrate the story of what happened on D-Day and the days that followed.  Each factor plays its own important role in the overall success of this presentation.  Together, they make a program that while perhaps improperly titled, still is an important story that needed to be told.

The first aspect of NOVA: D-Days Sunken Secrets the fact that it reveals another chapter of sorts to the story of the D-Day invasion.  It reveals a part of that history that might not have otherwise been known.  Everybody knows about the initial invasion by Allied forces.  And sometimes discussed by historians is the immense planning that led up to the invasion.  However, many might not know that then general Ike Eisenhower actually wrote a letter taking full blame for the operation should it fail.  Interestingly enough, whether or not the initial operation actually failed comes up between a military veteran and a military historian.  The true irony is that the veteran, when posed with the question actually says that in his own view, the operation did in fact fail.  He notes that it failed in that the men that took the beachhead went without the air coverage or the planned naval coverage, either.  Add in changing tides, much like at Dieppe, and the argument is made that while Allied forces eventually took the beaches of Normandy, the operation was still a failure at least in its planning.  That argument actually makes sense.  Had those men had the planned coverage, it is possible that casualties would have been far fewer among Allied forces.  Just as interesting to note is that German U-boats were still patrolling the waters off of France’s coast even after the initial invasion, which led to its own share of sinkings.  There was also the failure of the “floating tanks” and much more discussed throughout the course of the program’s near two-hour runtime.  All of that and more will definitely keep audiences watching and wanting to learn more about what really happened on D-Day and the days that would follow.  It is but one part of what makes NOVA: D-Days Sunken Secrets another important addition to the vast history of World War II.

Another important factor to consider in the overall success and enjoyment of this episode is the use of an actual WWII veteran as the program’s narrator.  For that matter, the use of a veteran that fought at Normandy makes it especially interesting. Peter Thomas narrates the program. And while he does quite the job in his role, it is obvious that he does at times become somewhat choked up as he carries out his duty. It could very well be this critic’s own interpretation. But it certainly sounds like he does in fact choke up at times. If that is the case, it’s a welcome change from every documentary out there. It actually adds a certain realism to the program that is sadly lacking in those other programs out there. It adds a more human element for lack of better wording. That human element will pull in viewers even more and lead them to feel at least a modicum of the emotion felt by those that served on that fateful day. It’s one more impressive touch to this program that makes it another invaluable addition to the library of any lover of military history or history in general.

The use of an actual WWII vet that fought on Normandy and the inclusion of even more information on the history of that groundbreaking operation both are key to the overall enjoyment of NOVA: D-Days Sunken Secrets. The final aspect of the program that audiences will appreciate is the inclusion once again of actual footage filmed as Allied forces landed on the beaches of Normandy. Just as much, audiences will appreciate the use of video illustrations outlining the movements of both Allied and German forces before and after the initial landing and battle to reclaim the beachhead. Viewers will be amazed at the CG recreation of the Allied forces’ man-made harbor and how it worked with the waters off the French coast. The bridges that were created were an engineering feat far ahead of their time. So, even those with an interest in engineering and construction will find something to like about this episode of NOVA. It’s the final touch to another overall impressive albeit slightly mis-titled piece of World War II history.

NOVA: D-Days Sunken Secrets is available now on DVD. It can be ordered direct from PBS’ online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=34895296&cp=&sr=1&kw=d+day&origkw=D+Day&parentPage=search. More information on this and other episodes of NOVA is available online at http://www.facebook.com/NOVAonline, http://twitter.com/novapbs, and http://www.pbs.org/nova. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Day Of Days Is One Of PBS’ Best WWII Documentaries To Date

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

June 6th is one of the most important dates in the history not only of America but of the world.  And this past June, the world stopped and recognized the seventieth anniversary of that day, also known as D-Day.  In honor of that day, many networks across the television spectrum presented their own programs, recalling the events of the day in question.  Few if any were as powerful as PBS’ Day of Days: June 6th, 1944American Soldiers Remember D­-Day.  This program is one of the most moving and powerful that PBS has premiered so far this year.  That is first and foremost because it is not just another documentary.  It is a group of firsthand recollections from just some of the men who fought on the beaches of Normandy on June 6th, 1944.  There are no animations.  There are no actors.  The only extras (if they are to be considered extras) are the collective snippets of the events from that day.  They are another part of what makes the entire experience in this program so powerful.  Of course, there is the “Beachhead to Berlin” newsreel.  That bonus is the final touch on a presentation that everybody should see at least once if not more.

Day of Days: June 6th, 1944American Soldiers Remember D­-Day is one of the most powerful WWII-centered pieces that PBS has ever premiered.  The central reason for that is the fact that it is anything but the steady stream of documentaries churned out by the various networks that handle such fare, PBS included.  There are no actors, “experts,” no special animations, or any other embellishments.  It is just a group of military veterans that were part of the Normandy invasion on June 6th, 1944.  The men recount the horrors that happened on those beaches.  Over the course of the program’s roughly hour –long run time.  In hearing their painful recollections, audiences will see and hear firsthand just why those that have served choose to not talk about what they experienced.  The tears that they shed as they recall the memories of those events are very real.  And they will deeply move anyone taking them in regardless of whether they are everyday viewers or themselves military veterans.

As has already been noted, Day of Days: June 6th, 1944—American Soldiers Remember D-Day is such a powerful piece from PBS because it isn’t just another documentary.  There are no “experts.”  There are no animations, re-enactments or any other embellishments.  The only “extra” of sorts that was partnered with the stories told by the veterans is a collection of actual footage shot as the Normandy invasion took place.  The footage itself is difficult to watch in its own right.  That is because audiences will actually see men being shot and falling, lifeless as they make their way onto the beach.  Again, this is not acting.  It is actual footage of those events.  There is footage of the firefight that took place from the sea off the French coast and much more.  That collection of footage partnered with the veterans’ stories make this program all the more powerful and memorable. It isn’t all that make the program memorable and powerful, either.

The vintage footage that accompanies the veterans’ recollections and the recollections themselves are both of the utmost importance to the presentation in whole. Just as important to the overall presentation is the bonus newsreel “Beachhead to Berlin.” This is an actual newsreel used to bolster patriotism among Americans in the days following the Normandy invasion. The newsreel uses much of the footage that is incorporated into the veterans recollections in the main feature. There is also footage not used in the main feature. The collective footage set against the voice over of a military officer writing a letter to the parent of a fallen soldier makes the newsreel truly powerful. It is later revealed that the officer writing the letter was himself a veteran and had received a purple heart for serving in the war. That final statement is the perfect closing moment for the newsreel. And together with the final thoughts of the veterans in the main feature, it becomes even harder hitting as a final moment for the entire presentation.

The primary feature presented in Day of Days: June 6th, 1944American Soldiers Remember D­-Day is by itself a program unlike anything that PBS has presented so far this year. The bonus newsreel that accompanies that feature is in itself just as moving. Both features together prove this program to be one that viewers of all backgrounds will appreciate, whether they be military or not. They prove the program to be one that everyone should see at least once if not more. It is available now and can be ordered direct via PBS’ online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=35620366&cp=&sr=1&kw=day+of+days&origkw=Day+of+Days&parentPage=search. More information on this and other releases from PBS is available online at http://www.pbs.org and http://www.facebook.com/pbs. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

PBS Set To Release Three New D-Day Documentaries July 8th

PBS will release three new programs next Tuesday centered on one of the most pivotal moments of World War II next Tuesday.

Day of Days

Courtesy: PBS

PBS will release next Tuesday,  Day of Days: June 6, 1944: American Soldiers Remember D-Day, D-Day 360, and Nova: D-Days Sunken Secrets. The first of the documentaries brings together a group of WWII veterans that took part in D-Day. The men recollect the events of what is one of the largest collective operations in military history. Throughout their discussions, the men also discuss their uneasiness over being called “heroes,” their transformation from boys to men, and the loss of their friends in the assault on Normandy among other topics. The stories bring up very powerful and equally painful memories for the veterans. This program will be available on DVD and via digital download. It will be available for SRP of $24.99. It can be ordered online via PBS’ online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=35620366.

 

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

D-Day 36O, the second of PBS’ upcoming WWII-centered documentaries, re-creates the events of D-Day. It does so through the use of new data-driven and statistical tools to display the sheer immensity of the operation. It was on June 6th, 1944 that 3,000 planes dropped 23,000 airborne troops behind German lines, 7,000 ships delivered some 20,000 military vehicles and 130,000 allied soldiers to take on some 40,000 German soldiers, roughly two million mines buried in the sand, and 46,000 beach obstacles. Among those obstacles were hundreds of miles of barbed wire, shells, and bullets. The program focuses primarily on the exit at Vierville-sur-Mer, the most important stretch of Omaha Beach that day. It documents the events that unfolded over the course of five hours of fighting on the five-mile stretch of French coastline. The program will be available on DVD next Tuesday. It will retail for SRP of $24.99 and can be ordered online via PBS’ online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=35446756.

 

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

In the third and final of PBS’ upcoming D-Day centered programs, audiences are taken beneath the waves of Normandy to see the remnants of what is today one of the world’s largest underwater archaeological sites in Nova: D-Days Sunken Secrets. Audiences will see in this five-part program, a combined group of military historians, archaeologists, and other specialist divers as they explore the waters just off of Normandy’s beaches. They use submersibles, underwater robots, and the latest 3-D mapping technology to identify the tanks, ships, planes, landing craft and more that sunk just off of Normandy’s beaches that day. Along with that, audiences are also taken into the planning of the D-Day invasion, and how the work of scientists, mathematicians, inventors, and even meteorologists helped in said planning. The expedition which led to this presentation lasted six weeks and was led by Sylvain Pascaud. D-Days Sunken Secrets will retail for SRP of $24.99. It can be ordered online direct via PBS’ online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=34895296.

More information on each of these programs and others from PBS is available online at http://www.pbs.org and http://www.facebook.com/pbs. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Nazi Mega Weapons A Rare Must See WWII Documentary

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

Television today has become increasingly dumbed down day after day. “Reality TV” (for those that really want to believe that moniker) seems to be increasingly dominate the airwaves. Even History Channel, Discovery Channel, and The Learning Channel are but pale shadows of what they once were. Enter PBS. PBS has shown time and again throughout 2013 why it has remained a shining beacon of worthwhile television with its documentaries, and dramas. That reputation has been maintained even more with the release of its new WWII based documentary, Nazi Mega Weapons. This six-part “mini-series” of sorts looks at some of the greatest achievements of the Nazi military and how despite their greatness, they in essence led to the downfall of the German forces. This documentary is a must see first and foremost in that it is aimed at no fewer than four distinct audience groups. It is just as worth seeing because of the stories told through each of its three segments. Just as noteworthy in this collection of episodes is the ratio of each segment’s run time to its content. Each segment is so well balanced that whether one is watching these segments in the classroom or the living room. The amount of content and its arrangement over the course of the segments’ run time is the finishing touch to what is one of PBS’ best WWII based documentaries of this year.

Nazi Mega Weapons is easily one of PBS’ most intriguing WWII based documentaries to have been presented by the network in 2013. The first thing that has been done right with this documentary is the fact that it has been separated into six distinct segments. Those segments are separated over two discs and a total of roughly six hours, or one hour each. Nothing is left out of this documentary. From the well-known V-2 rocket program to Hitler’s “Atlantic Wall” and the lesser discussed Nazi sub base on the coast of France, every aspect of Nazi technology is discussed throughout each segment. Whether one is a history buff, a military history buff, or even an engineering specialist or WWII historian, this documentary is so successful first and foremost because it reaches so many audiences across the spectrum. One can’t but be amazed at the technological and engineering feats achieved by the German forces as shown over the course of Nazi Mega Weapons. Just as amazing is the fact that despite those advances and feats, it was all for naught. As viewers will see, also portrayed here are how those same advances and feats also led to the eventual downfall of the Nazi forces.

The stories shared about the advances and feats achieved by the Nazi forces in WWII are absolutely amazing, considering where the world was at that point technologically and in terms of what had been in the world of engineering. Just as amazing to note is how those same advances that made Nazi forces so dangerous also led to their downfall and the downfall of the entire Nazi force. A prime example is shared in the mini-series’ opening segment on D-Day. It explains that for all of the preparations made on Omaha Beach, little preparation was made to ensure it was actually defended against Allied forces. Everyone knows that Allied forces took Omaha Beach. But how many knew that Omaha Beach was taken in roughly a little over three hours because German forces had only enough ammunition to last them three hours? That’s just one of the many stories shared that will amaze many viewers. Another equally noteworthy story lies in the segment on the well-known V-2 rocket program. Some might be interested to discover that so much time was spent perfecting the V-2 rockets that by the time Nazi leaders were ready to use them, it was too late. While the rockets had done substantial damage to Britain, it wasn’t enough to turn the tide of the war in Germany’s favor.  These are just a small handful of the stories shared throughout all six segments across the documentary.  They are also just minor pieces of the overall material used to expertly illustrate each segment’s overall story.

The overall material used to illustrate each segment is expansive to say the least.  Individuals that specialize in given fields are brought along to the “Atlantic Wall”, the infamous Nazi U-boat base in France, and even the places where Werhner Von Braun’s V-2 rockets were developed.  Rather than just seeing these places in vintage footage, audiences get to see them as they are now.  This allows viewers a close up look at what the Nazis had achieved both technologically and in terms of engineering.  It is a highly effective visual aid, as is the original wartime footage included alongside those historical “visits.”  The re-enactment segments are just as effective to the overall presentation.  And the fact that each of these elements was so well balanced with the other within the context of each segment’s near hour-long run time makes the overall presentation that much more enjoyable for viewers.  This internal balance works hand in hand with the back story of each segment and the general separation of the segments to put Nazi Mega Weapons over the top.  All things considered, it becomes one more of PBS’ best documentaries of 2013, and potentially another of the year’s best documentaries overall.  It will be available Tuesday, November 5th and can be ordered direct from PBS’ online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=22850906.  More information on this and other PBS programming is available online at http://www.pbs.org and http://www.facebook.com/pbs.  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

PBS’ Superhero Docu-Series Will Impress Any Fan Boy Or Girl

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

PBS is the last true bastion of worthwhile programming on television today.  That includes both cable and non-cable networks.  The once powerhouse networks that are History, Discovery, and TLC have been almost completely polluted by reality television in recent years.  This has left them nonfactors to anyone looking for programming with any substance.  And while it may not be the first network to present a special on the comic book industry, PBS has still proven with its new special, Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle, why it remains the last true bastion of quality programming.  The special takes a look at the formative years of the comic book industry, and how some of the most beloved characters in the comic book industry went from the pages of newspapers to being their very own entity.  It examines the impact of comic books on the war effort during World War II and vice versa, and the effect of television on the future of comic book characters, among so many other topics.  Perhaps the only downside to the entire presentation would be the DVD’s box art.  It’s pretty obvious that this is only the first of an ongoing series of specials on the comic industry.  Keeping that in mind, it is a good start for anyone that has ever had any interest in the history of the comic book industry but didn’t know where to begin.

Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle is a good starting point for anyone that has ever had any interest in the comic book industry, but did not know where to begin with their research.  The first of what looks to be three hour long installments, it covers the comic book industry’s first twenty years, beginning with the advent of comic strips in newspapers.  Audiences will be interested to discover that Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster didn’t gain immediate success with their Superman comic strip.  Rather, it took five years before the pair’s strip was finally picked up by any newspaper.  Because this first installment is painted with a broad brush, the controversy that would follow is largely omitted.  There is a passing reference to it.  But it is at least made.  Perhaps that will be included in the second installment.  The advent of Batman and Wonder Woman were just as interesting subjects about which to learn.  Even the most well-rounded comic enthusiasts probably never gave much thought to how different Batman and Superman were both in terms of their characters and their how they rose to fame.  And the controversy surrounding Wonder Woman (and the role of women in comic books) is just as intriguing.  The discussion is raised on the presentation of Wonder Woman as a symbol of a strong woman in a very male dominated society versus that of a standard damsel in distress because she was always being caught and handcuffed, tied up, etc.  The term “fetishy” is even thrown out in the discussion on her negative presentation to readers.  It definitely makes for quite the discussion point for anyone regardless of whether one is a comic book fan or not.

The creation and controversy surrounding Wonder Woman is just one of the points in which audiences will take an interest during the first portion of this documentary.  Also discussed is how the outbreak of WWII led to the creation of one Captain America, and even got Superman almost involved in the war.  Those that might be novices in the world and history of comic books will take interest by connection just how popular comic books were among America’s armed forces during the days of the war.  And that is likely thanks to the fact that both Marvel and DC offered Americans of every calling someone for whom they could cheer in the war against the Nazis.  By direct contrast, it is even more interesting to note how the popularity of comic books actually declined after the war, and how the industry even came under fire thanks to the rise of the “Red Scare” brought on by Joseph McCarthy.  That is one that even the most devout comic book enthusiasts might not know.  Of course, it was the “Red Scare” that eventually led to the “comics code” that many readers know of today.  The first of this three-part series ends up discussing not just the censorship that followed McCarthyism, but the rise of television as a new outlet to regain audiences that had been lost by that movement.  It will be interesting to see where PBS takes viewers in the second and third installments of its comic book based documentary.  The entire series will be released on DVD October 15th.  It can be ordered direct from PBS’ online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=23148246&cp=&sr=1&kw=superheroes&origkw=Superheroes&parentPage=search.  More information on this and other PBS programs is available online at http://www.pbs.org and http://www.facebook.com/pbs.  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Storming Juno Another Important Story Of WWII

Courtesy:  Entertainment One

Courtesy: Entertainment One

Stories of WWII told from the American and British vantage points are quite plentiful in the world of television and movies.  Stories from those in other Allied forces are far less.  That is they are far less prominent in the United States.  Now finally, another lesser told piece of WWII history has finally been added to the whole.  One part historical drama and one part documentary, Entertainment One’s brand new WWII story, Storming Juno is an impressive work.  The hour and a half presentation tells the story of the events of June 6th, 1944 from the perspective not of the American or British forces, but from the Canadian military.  It is centered on three young soldiers that were actually there on the day that marked the beginning of the end of the war in Europe. 

It is difficult to know where exactly to begin in the discussion of Storming Juno.  It would be very easy to compare this movie to the likes of bigger blockbuster films such as Saving Private Ryan and Flags of our Fathers.  By comparison, Storming Juno is just as good as those war epics if not better than them.  That might be a bold statement to some.  But it is a true statement.  That’s not to say that the aforementioned films were bad.  It just means that for an indie war film, Storming Juno definitely holds its own.  And it does so quite well at that.  So what enabled Storming Juno to hold its own so well against much bigger, more epic war movies?  For starters, the movie itself runs just over an hour.  The remaining half an hour of the entire feature’s ninety minute run time is taken by a documentary of sorts.  Another factor in the success of this movie is tied directly to its run time.  That factor is the story’s writing.  Script writer Christopher Gagosz managed in his script, to balance the intertwining stories of the three men on which it focuses.  Along with its balance, there are two more factors that make Storming Juno a success and a must see for any history buff and lover of war films. Those factors tie in to make this a complete story that any history buff and war movie fan will enjoy just as much as any war movie released by Hollywood’s major studios.  The factors in question are the incorporation of actual footage taken on D-Day by Canadian forces and the general historical accuracies portrayed in the movie itself.  These tie back into the writing and in turn the story length and overall enjoyment of the movie.  It all works together to make Storming Juno not just an enjoyable war story, but also one of 2013’s best independent movies.

Storming Juno holds its own against other bigger name war movies first and foremost because of its run time.  Paramount’s Saving Private Ryan clocked in at a massive one hundred sixty-nine minutes long.  That is roughly two hours and forty-nine minutes, or in simple terms, nearly three hours long.  Paramount’s other major war epic, Flags of our Fathers, came in at roughly two hours and twelve minutes.  Storming Juno on the other hand comes in at only ninety-minutes.  The primary story itself (not counting the semi-documentary that follows the main story) comes in at just over sixty minutes.  This puts the actual story at less than half the time of both previously mentioned movies.  If one were to count the full ninety-minutes, then it would still be just over half the time of said movies.  Thanks to the writing of Christopher Gagosz though, it doesn’t feel that ninety-minutes at all.  It keeps viewers engaged through every action filled moment.

Script writer Christopher Gagosz’s writing is largely to thanks for the movie’s ability to keep viewers engaged throughout its full ninety minutes.  He does this because instead of focusing on melodrama, as Saving Private Ryan and Flags of our Fathers do, he instead balances the personal emotions of his subjects with the story’s action.  While Juno Beach might not have been nearly as fraught with danger as Utah Beach, it was still dangerous.  The body language of the soldiers as they waited to take the beach said so much without saying anything.  It served to set the mood of tension, thus keeping viewers engaged.  The action that ensued from the moment that the troop transports landed and the tanks were launched (and subsequently sunk) plays into that tension and does even more to keep viewers’ attention. Right to the battle’s final moments.  As those final moments close, audiences are introduced to some of the men that were there at Juno Beach.  Their interviews serve to cement the story presented and tie into the final factor of the movie’s success.  That factor is its accuracy. 

Much of what is presented in Storming Juno was taken directly from both oral and written first-hand accounts of this battle.  As noted in the bonus “Inside Storming Juno” feature, much work went into bringing the story to life and making it accurate.  Even actual veterans from the battle were brought in to help set the scene, as was an individual with expert knowledge of the Royal Regina Rifles to make certain that the battle was portrayed as accurately as possible.  It would seem that the only questionable aspect of accuracy is that of the planes used in telling the story of the paratrooper.  They seemed to look like B-25s of some sort.  Other than that one slight inaccuracy, so much else was done right with this movie.  It ties right back in to the writing.  And along with the writing and run time, it makes Storming Juno a movie that any history buff and war movie fan will appreciate regardless if another movie based on non-American or British Allied forces is ever made.  It is available now in stores and online.

To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Ghost Army One Of The Greatest Generation’s Greatest Stories

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

PBS’ latest WWII documentary, The Ghost Army is another of this year’s best documentaries.  While it will not be available until next Tuesday, June 18th, its release was still quite well timed with the recent passing of last week’s 68th anniversary of D-Day.  There are so many stories that have been told about the members of “The Greatest Generation” as they were so properly termed by former broadcaster Tom Brokaw.  Sadly, as each year passes, there are fewer and fewer members of said generation left to share the stories of WWII.  One can only wonder how many stories will never be told because of this.  Thankfully though, PBS has managed to recover what is perhaps one of the least told stories of WWII with this new release.  It is one that regardless of whether one has an interest in war history, art history, or history in general, will appeal to so many audiences. 

The Ghost Army is on the surface one more story of WWII.  What makes it so special is that while there are so many stories that have been told, the story of the Ghost Army has not been told nearly as much as others.  That is because as members of the then secret military outfit noted, their operations were kept classified for some four decades after the war ended.  So while some books have been written on the group of soldiers, little else has been created or even published about this group of men.  That being noted, the stories shared by those that served with the Ghost Army will amaze any viewer.  It’s incredible to believe that this group of soldiers was able to outsmart so many Nazi divisions with just speakers and a bunch of inflatable weaponry and vehicles.  It’s so incredible in that for decades mankind has marveled at how advanced the Nazi forces were in terms of their military technology in comparison to the United States.  The Ghost Army didn’t need all of the high tech rockets and other tech to hold off the Nazi forces.  It’s a true statement to American know-how and creativity.

Speaking of the creativity of the Ghost Army, art lovers will appreciate this program as it notes that many of the men that staffed the Ghost Army were in fact artists.  It was because of their talent as artists that the Ghost Army was able to pull such acts of deception over not just the Nazi forces, but their own forces, too.  At one point, narrator Peter Coyote notes that an airfield built by the Ghost Army was so convincing that an American recon plane landed and was summarily told to get out of there, so as to not blow their cover.  That is a tribute to the talents of all involved from brainchild to reality.  And as viewers will learn in the show’s closing minutes, many of those same men came to be some of America’s best known and respected individuals in the worlds of art and fashion.  On a side note, it should be noted here that some of the unit’s men had some real talent with a pencil and pen.  That’s revealed through drawings and etchings crafted by the men during trips to Paris.  Parents should note that these drawings in question do contain at least some slight nudity.  One drawing does reveal a woman’s breasts under a very sheer negligee.  It’s just one of a handful of drawings that some older audiences might not think appropriate for younger viewers to see.  So parents and teachers should use their discretion here.  Sure the stories connected to the drawings will have viewers laughing.  But the drawings themselves might be a bit much for some viewers. 

The stories shared by the members of the Ghost Army are quite eye opening and impressive to say the least.  Just as impressive is the understanding that the simple use of theatrics was able to hold off so much of the German army.  And to learn that certain members of the Ghost Army went on to become highly successful in their art and fashion related careers is even more incredible.  There is one more factor in The Ghost Army that makes it an impressive documentary.  That factor is the original footage taped through operations conducted by the once top secret military outfit.  The footage helps to fully illustrate what the Ghost Army did and the impact of its operations.  It helps to pass on what is perhaps one of the most incredible stories of the Greatest Generation for a whole new generation (and generations to come).   All of these stories and revelations shared in The Ghost Army prove even more, the value and importance of public broadcasting.  The program will be available next Tuesday, June 18th.  It can be ordered online direct via the PBS online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=20299476&cp=&kw=the+ghost+army&origkw=The+Ghost+Army&sr=1.

 Anyone wanting more information on The Ghost Army and any other PBS program can get all the latest and more online at http://www.facebook.com/pbs and http://www.pbs.org. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

The Great Escape Is A Great War Movie

Courtesy:  20th Century Fox/MGM

Courtesy: 20th Century Fox/MGM

The world celebrated what is one of the most important dates in history last week with the remembrance of VE Day.  That was the day that the war in Europe ended.  Interestingly enough, last Tuesday, MGM and 20th Century Fox released the fiftieth anniversary edition of what is one of the most talked about films centered on the war in Europe in The Great Escape.  This is hardly the shortest movie made about events from the war.  It clocks in at nearly three hours long.  And even with certain fictionalized portions as noted in the movie’s bonus features, it still proves almost half a century later to be one of the greatest WWII themed movies to ever be crafted.

What makes The Great Escape enjoyable, despite its run time, is that while it is on the surface a story based in WWII, it is more a story about the power of teamwork and of the human spirit to survive.  Having so many P.O.W.s from so many different backgrounds in one confined area could be argued to be a microcosm of the nations of the world.  This likely wasn’t the primary intent of script writers James Clavell and W.R. Burnett.  But seeing this and the ability of the men to work together for a singular cause despite their varied backgrounds helps to illustrate the power of teamwork and the human spirit to survive.  Those messages are made even more powerful when juxtaposed against the ideologies of the Nazi party.  It shows that no matter how great the odds, even ordinary people can do extraordinary feats when they come together.

The messages of teamwork and the human spirit are integral to the enjoyment of The Great Escape.  Those same messages are illustrated even more through the movie’s main storyline and its action sequences.  The movie’s main storyline is not that difficult to follow.  A group of P.O.W.s is sent to what is supposed to be an inescapable P.O.W. camp created by the Nazis.  The allied prisoners find every way to hide their “great” escape plan from the Nazi guards manning the camp.  The ways in which the plan is covered up are funny.  From singing Christmas music to using special code, it all seems so outrageous.  But it’s that outrageousness that is so entertaining.  As soon as audiences allow themselves to be pulled into the story, and get over the fact that some of the story was in fact fictionalized, they will find themselves appreciating the story even more.

Staying on the matter of the fictionalized portions of The Great Escape, the bonus features included in the movie’s fiftieth anniversary Blu-ray edition do a lot to justify the fictionalized portions of the story.  It is noted in the bonus features that portions of the story were in fact added that didn’t happen, such as Steve McQueen’s famous motorcycle chase.  It is noted that he made the demand that unless this scene was added, he was not going to star in the movie based.  Perhaps most interesting to note in the included bonus features is that despite some changes and additions here and there, the men that actually escaped from Stalag Luft III were quite accepting of the movie and even tried to claim that this character and that was based on him.  One can’t help but laugh at the pride brought out in those men when they shared their stories and joked about being the influence behind given characters in the movie.  The pride of the men on whom the movie was based is the most important reason for the movie having been made.  And it’s the most important reason for the movie to be seen to this day.  It is a tribute to just one more group of individuals of what former newsman Tom Brokaw properly called “The Greatest Generation.”  With members of this generation passing away each day, a movie like this is increasingly necessary in order to keep the memory of that generation alive.  It’s a movie that members of every generation should see at least once.  It is available now in stores and online and can be ordered direct online via the Fox store at http://www.foxconnect.com

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War In HD Box Set An Excellent Piece Of Military History

Courtesy:  History Channel/A&E TV/A&E Home Video

Courtesy: History Channel/A&E TV/A&E Home Video

History Channel released one of its most impressive box sets yet earlier this year with the release of WWII in HD: Collector’s Edition.  That four-disc set took audiences in the lives of just a handful of members of the “Greatest Generation.”  It was the follow-up to the network’s equally impressive military history piece, Vietnam in HD.  Now for all the military history lovers out there, History Channel has combined both mini-series into one full six-disc set featuring both presentations in their entirety.

War in HD is a good gift idea for the military history lover in anyone’s house this holiday season.  The entire thing starts with the hugely acclaimed WWII in HD.  This series takes viewers through the history of WWII from its earliest days before the United States’ entrance to its final days.  This mega set even includes the bonus segment, “The Air War” from the previous releases of WWII in HD.  Presented in full HD, the footage culled for the presentation that is WWII in HD looks outstanding, even on standard def DVD.  And new light is shed on life on the frontlines and stateside from the interviews collected for this mini-series.  One of the most intriguing factors of WWII in HD is the drastic difference in support for the war.  Whereas support for the war in both the Pacific and in Europe was overwhelming from America, support for the war in Vietnam was quite different.

Support for the War in Vietnam went from being in support of the troops to being completely against the men fighting the war.  But now thanks to the inclusion of Vietnam in HD those who perhaps have always had a certain view of how things went down get an entirely new view of what really happened.  It’s intriguing to see the progress made in support of South Koreans in the fight against the North.  From new schools and much needed medicines, American forces did a lot to try and help the South Koreans.  Just as intriguing to learn from this double disc portion of War in HD was that despite the draft being in full effect, nearly one-third of the men serving in Vietnam by the late 1970’s were actually volunteers.  Considering how many were drafted into service (and that number is given), that one-third of enlisted men were volunteers is still quite eye opening.  It changes the view of things from that angle.  And for that matter, viewers actually learn that about four years in the war, North Vietnamese casualties far outnumbered those of American forces.  Narrator Michael C. Hall (Dexter) explains that the measure of victory in Vietnam was not by ground taken (as was the case in WWII), but by the body count.  That perhaps is what makes the Vietnam War so controversial more so than what happened during the war.  That military brass openly said that was the measure of victory set off both citizens back home and the men serving on the frontlines.  There is so much more eye opening material that audiences will appreciate from Vietnam in HD than just what is noted here.  On the note of the forces fighting the war, there is a discussion on the part of deciding whether to save the life of a fellow soldier or decide if one of the locals was a North Vietnamese fighter.  That brief moment makes for quite the discussion.  And it’s just one more of the many topics raised in this half of History Channel’s new War in HD box set.

War in HD is available now.  It can be ordered online at http://shop.history.com.

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