‘Civil War 360’ Is A Widely Appealing Civil War Doc

Courtesy: Smithsonian Channel/Public Media Distribution

This coming Saturday – April 12, 2018 – might not seem like an important date to most people.  However, it is in fact far more important than most might think.  That is because it marks 157 years since the start of America’s bloodiest domestic conflict – The Civil War.  According to historians, the war, which set brothers against one another and nearly tore the union apart, started April 12, 1861 with the attack on Fort Sumter by Confederate forces under the command of General P.G.T. Beauregard.  In the nearly 160 years since its start and almost 153 years since its end, countless books have been written and so many movies and documentaries created about different aspects of the civil war.  Some have proven to be anything but memorable while others, such as Smithsonian Channel’s three-part doc Civil War 360 have proven to be somewhat more interesting and intriguing.  Released earlier this month – May 1 to be exact – the 184-minute (3 hours and four minutes) program proves to be an entertaining and memorable presentation for the most causal history fan.  That is due in no small part to the use of three well-known celebrities to help tell the story of the war from each side.  This will be discussed shortly.  The very separation of the program into three distinct segments is critical to making the presentation so appealing for audiences.  The information and re-enactments used to help tell each side’s story is also key to making this more mainstream Civil War doc appealing to audiences.  Each element is important in its own way to the whole of Civil War 360 as will be pointed out in this review.  All things considered, they make Civil War 360 a Civil War documentary that proves to be one of the more memorable docs on the war in recent memory.

Smithsonian Channel’s mainstreamed Civil War documentary Civil War 360 is an interesting new look at what is America’s bloodiest domestic conflict.  Considering that the 157th anniversary of its start is just around the corner, its release early this month was timely to say the least.  It is a presentation that is certain to appeal easily to the most casual Civil War and history lovers in general.  This is due in part to the use of three relatively well-known celebrities – Ashley Judd, Trace Adkins and Dennis Haysbert — to gain and maintain viewers’ engagement and entertainment.  On the surface, this might not seem to be all that important.  However, the draw here is simple:  If celebrities show an interest in something such as the Civil War through their own personal connections (Two of Judd’s 2-times great grandfathers fought for the Union while Adkins had his own familial connection to the Confederacy.  Haysbert’s connection is indirect, but still that doesn’t keep him from becoming emotional at discovering all that happened to the slaves), then that, by connection, should generate interest by everyday viewers.  PBS’ hit genealogy series Finding Your Roots takes a similar approach, and has proven successful using that approach, too, as has TLC’s answer to that series, Who Do You Think You Are?  Keeping this in mind, the use of a trio of celebrities as a starting point to gain viewers’ interest here was smart to say the least.  It is just one of the points that serves to make this program appealing to audiences.  The clear separation of the program into three distinct segments adds to its interest.

All three segments of Civil War 360 runs for roughly one hour, with only one running a little longer, for the three-hour, 4 minute run time.  What this means is that each side of the conflict gets its own share of time.  Again, on the surface, this might not seem overly critical.  However, a deeper evaluation reveals that the equal time for each segment ensures audiences cannot try to claim bias by Smithsonian Channel.  Rather, it ensures equal time on the side of the Union, the Confederacy and even the slaves.  What’s more, the pacing with each segment is relatively stable from one to the next with the result being just as much assurance of viewers’ engagement.  Once again, the program’s presentation offers viewers plenty to appreciate, regardless of whether one is a casual history lover or the biggest Civil War aficionado.  It still is not the last of the program’s most important elements.  The information provided throughout the course of the program rounds out its most important elements.

Some of the information presented throughout the program is familiar territory.  That includes matters such as the unsanitary conditions of the field hospitals and the related mortality rates of the soldiers as a result of those conditions.  Also familiar to audiences throughout the program is the matter of Lincoln’s assassination after the war’s end.  At the same time, audiences also learn that while John Wilkes Booth thought he would be a hero to southerners for his actions, the reality was the exact opposite.  This is something that is seemingly taught very rarely in schools at any level.  Also interesting to learn here is the revelation that despite popular belief, Lee did not go to Appomattox to surrender, but was trying to escape Union forces.  As if that isn’t enough, audiences also learn that Lincoln’s win was actually not a major victory, but that it was in fact a close win for the White House.  Considering this revelation, one can’t help but wonder what might have happened if Lincoln had lost the presidency.  America’s history and its present state might have and might be different.  There is also mention of Britain’s profiteering from the war, another aspect of the war that is rarely taught in public schools or even colleges.  Another little taught revelation shared here is that John Brown actually saw himself as a martyr, and basically thought even his rebellion’s failure would be a win.  Again, this is certain to create its own share of discussion.  That’s because such revelation paints Brown in something of a selfish light as it makes it seem that he didn’t really care what happened to his cohorts at the Harper’s Ferry raid.  Between these revelations and so many others shared throughout each of this program’s segments, the program offers plenty for viewers to appreciate just in terms of its content.  When this is considered along with the value of the program’s segmentation and the interest established through the use of celebrities, the whole of those elements ensures viewer’s engagement from every angle.  The end result is the realization that the program is certain to have wide appeal.

Smithsonian Channel’s Civil War documentary Civil War 360 is obviously not the first program to ever focus on what is America’s bloodiest domestic conflict.  It is however, one of the more memorable docs on the topic to be presented in recent history, though.  That is due in no small part to the use of three well-known celebrities to establish an interest, especially among the average viewer.  The segmentation of the program into three distinct and almost equally timed features – the north, the south and the slaves – builds on the interest established through the use of the celebrities and ensures even more, viewers’ maintained engagement and entertainment.  The use of familiar information and lesser taught revelations together strengthens the program’s presentation even more still.  It essentially creates the cornerstone of the presentation’s foundation, and when it is joined with the already noted elements, the whole of those elements makes the program a fully immersive presentation that will engage and entertain viewers across the board.  It is available now.  More information on this and other titles from Smithsonian Channel is available online now at:

 

 

 

Website: http://www.smithsonianchannel.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/SmithsonianChannel

Twitter: http://twitter.com/SmithsonianChan

 

 

 

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 https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Advertisements

Smithsonian Channel Announces Release Date For new Civil War Doc

Courtesy: Smithsonian Channel/Public Media Distribution

Smithsonian Channel is taking audiences back to the Civil War next month with a new documentary on DVD.

Civil War 360 is scheduled to be released May 1.  The three-part documentary tells more stories from the Civil War from the vantage point of the Confederacy, the Union and from the slaves caught in the middle of the conflict.

The Union’s story — aptly titled “The Union” — is told by actress Ashley Judd (SistersHeatDouble Jeopardy) while singer/actor Trace Adkins brings audiences “The Confederacy.”  Actor and Allstate Insurance spokesman Dennis Haybert (Far From HeavenMajor League24) tells the story of the slaves caught in the middle of the conflict in “Fight For Freedom.”

In “Fight For Freedom,” Haysbert traces his lineage back to slaves while discovering the very inkwell used by President Lincoln to craft the Gettysburg Address and a hymnal owned by Harriet Tubman.  Haysbert that journey of self-discovery tied into his portion of this program was enlightening.

“So many people stood up and fought together to make this country a free country,” Haysbert said.  “It just gave me a different perspective on what our country is about and what we can be.”

Audiences learn during “The Confederacy” that Adkins’ great-great grandfather fought for the confederacy.  Adkins traces the music, art and firearms used during the war, which are displayed at the Smithsonian Museum during his segment.  His takeaway from his discoveries was a deeper appreciation for the items and their importance to not just the war’s history, but to America’s history.

“I’ve had a real personal connection with the Civil War ever since I was a kid,” Adkins said.  “This is our last best chance to raise awareness.  The battlefields, the guns, the pikes, the uniforms and flags – all these things are all that we have left from that pivotal period in this nation’s history.  They should be treated as treasures, and we should try to preserve them and save them for future generations, because it’s impossible to know who you are if you don’t know your history, or where you’ve come from or what you’ve done.”

Judd learns through “The Union” that two of her three-times great-grandfathers — both from Kentucky — fought for the Union during the war.In learning her family history, Judd echoed Adkins’ sentiments about knowing one’s history.

“I hope it inspires people to take a look at their own family history, and learn the interesting stories that can help enlighten them as well as move their hearts,” Judd said.

All three segments that make up the body of Civil War 360 are contained on just one disc at a total run time of 180 minutes.  The documentary will retail for MSRP of $19.99, but can be pre-ordered online now at a reduced price of $14.99 via PBS’ online store.  It can also be downloaded via various digital outlets here

and check out a trailer for the program at the same location.

More information on this and other titles from Smithsonian Channel is available online now at:

 

Website: http://www.smithsonianchannel.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/SmithsonianChannel

Twitter: http://twitter.com/SmithsonianChan

 

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 https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

 

Smithsonian Channel’s African-American Aviation History Doc Is A “Soaring” Success

Courtesy: Smithsonian Channel/Public Media Distribution

African-Americans have made so many great contributions to this nation throughout the course of its now 242 years. They have also made great accomplishments over that time both for themselves and that have opened roads for those who have come after them. From agriculture to business and even to politics and beyond, those contributions and accomplishments are innumerable. Now thanks to Public Media Distribution and Smithsonian Channel, yet another area in which African-Americans have made great (or in this case soaring) accomplishments has been brought to light as we mark Black History Month in the form of the documentary program Black Wings. This program is an important addition to the ongoing study of African-Americans’ contributions and accomplishments because of its story first and foremost. This will be discussed shortly. Its pacing is just as important to discuss in examining its whole, and will be touched on later. The companion interviews and vintage material used to help tell the story rounds out the doc’s most important elements. Each element is important in its own way to the program’s overall presentation. All things considered, they make Black Wings a welcome addition to the ongoing celebration of African-Americans’ contributions to America and their accomplishments throughout its history.

Smithsonian Channel’s new documentary Black Wings is a high-flying success for Smithsonian Channel. That is because the almost hour-long program brings to light a part of African-American history that doesn’t seem to be typically addressed when discussing African-American history — the contributions to and accomplishments within the aviation industry. This applies both during Black History Month and at other times of the year. Yes, it is addressed, but not to the extent of African-Americans’ role in the nation’s business industry, education system and other major areas. The story presented here presents African-Americans’ accomplishments and contributions not just through one aspect of the aviation industry, but in general. From their role in World War I and World War II to the commercial flight industry and even the private industry, the story covers as much ground as possible without allowing itself to get bogged down. What’s really impressive here is the fact that those who helped tell the story are largely everyday people, save for perhaps one well-known female astronaut. Other famed figures such as James Banning and Thomas Allen — The Flying Hobos — and Marlon Green –Continental Airlines’ first African-American pilot — get the recognition that they deserve, hopefully setting the ground to make them the celebrities that they should be. Green’s hiring by Continental would also make him the first African-American to be hired as a pilot for a major American airline. His story, and that of the “Flying Hobos,” couples with the stories of the everyday figures who themselves have done such great things for African-American (and American history in whole) to make the story overall one that will appeal to any aviation history buff. While the story forms a solid foundation for the program’s overall presentation, it is only one of the doc’s most important elements. Its pacing is just as important to discuss as the story itself.

The pacing of Black Wings‘ story is so important to its presentation because of the amount of ground that is covered over its nearly hour-long run time. There are discussions on African-American accomplishments within and contributions to the nation’s aviation history in regards to the military, commercial, private and even governmental (NASA). That being the case, it would be so easy for the program to get lost in itself and in turn to get bogged down. Luckily that was not the case here. From one story to the next, those behind the doc’s creation keep the transitions smooth and the story moving fluidly. Just enough time is given to each smaller story within the program’s bigger story to ensure viewers’ maintained engagement. From one to the next, this makes each smaller story memorable and impactful. Even up to the program’s end, the pacing is so solid, audiences won’t even have realized that roughly 51 minutes have elapsed. That is a tribute to the work put in to this aspect, and in turn proves why the pacing is so important to the program’s whole. It still is not the last of the program’s most important elements. The vintage footage and pictures and the interviews used to tell the overall story are collectively just as important as anything else to this story’s whole.

The visual and audio elements used to help tell Black Wings‘ story are so important because of the depth that they add to the doc’s presentation. The pics and footage of the “Flying Hobos'” cross country journey couple with the narration and stories from those familiar with the story, to make this a story that could so easily be made into a major blockbuster, or at least the subject of their own documentary. This critic personally would like to see them receive their own doc more so than an over embellished biopic based on actual events so as to properly pay tribute to them.

Much the same can be said of Thomas Hudner Jr.’s first hand account of Jesse Brown’s death in Korea. His personal account of Brown being shot down and the efforts taken to try to save Brown couples with footage of the air war over the continent to make it just as hard-hitting a story. That can even be said of the footage, pictures and interviews used to tell Marlon Green’s story. Audiences get to hear firsthand from Green’s daughter and other family and friends about his efforts to move from a military aviation career to a commercial career. Hearing his daughter speak of how proud she was of Green breaking the racial barrier that had for so long been held is itself moving. Seeing the applications that were discussed in his story adds even more depth to the words of those who told his story, making his story just as interesting as all of the others shared throughout the story.

Considering how much material is presented within Green’s story, that of Brown and of the Flying Hobos, one can easily go back to the program’s pacing and see again in hindsight how easy it would have been for the pacing to be problematic in this program. That’s especially considering that the program clocks in at just under an hour. Luckily though, that was — again — not the case. Taking all of this into consideration, not only does the pacing once again prove pivotal to the program, but so do the interviews, footage and pictures used to tell each of the program’s many stories. They are collectively what really make the stories and make them interesting. The pacing serves to keep them interesting. When this is all considered alongside the very selection of stories featured in this collection, the whole of these elements makes Black Wings a *ahem* “soaring” success (yes, that awful pun was intended) for Smithsonian Channel.

Smithsonian Channel’s new tribute to African-Americans’ accomplishments within and contributions to America’s aviation industry is a high-flying success of a program that succeeds during Black History Month and other times of the year. As has been noted already, that is due in part to its very focus and stories. African-American aviation history is one of those areas that has for decades been largely ignored when talking about African-American history. So, it is nice to see a presentation that covers not just the specific topic, but the topic in whole from one avenue to another. The program’s pacing insures viewers’ maintained engagement, especially with how much ground is covered here. The interviews, vintage footage and pictures that are used to tell the stories are the finishing touch to the program. They bring everything full circle. Each element is obviously important to the program’s whole. All things considered, they make Black Wings a work that will appeal to aviation history buffs, black history buffs and history buffs in general. In other words, it is a profile that deserves as much attention as any other African-American history profile. It is available now. It can be purchased direct online via Smithsonian Channel’s website and via PBS’ online store.

More information on this and other titles from Smithsonian Channel is available online now at:

Website: http://www.smithsonianchannel.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/SmithsonianChannel

Twitter: http://twitter.com/SmithsonianChan

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 https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Smithsonian Channel Celebrates Black History Month With New Doc, ‘Black Wings’

Courtesy: Smithsonian Channel/Public Media Distribution

African-Americans have made so many great contributions to America throughout history.  From technology to food to sports and more, African-Americans have done so much for this great nation.  Later this month, Smithsonian Channel will release a new documentary outlining the contributions that African-Americans have made in aviation in the form of Black Wings.

Black Wings will be released Tuesday, January 30 exclusively on DVD, right as African-American History Month prepares to start.  The nearly hour-long program outlines how African-Americans overcame not just gravity but also racist views to accomplish their feats.  From bi-planes to jet planes, from commercial airlines to the military and beyond, those accomplishments were as high as the sky itself.  Audiences can get a sneak peek at the program online now here.

Black Wings will retail for MSRP of $19.99, but can be pre-ordered now at a reduced price of $14.99 via PBS’ online store.  It can also be downloaded digitally via Smithsonian Channel’s website.

More information on this and other Smithsonian Channel programs is available online now at:

 

Website: http://www.smithsonianchannel.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/SmithsonianChannel

Twitter: http://twitter.com/SmithsonianChan

 

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 https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

 

 

2017 World Series Box Set Hits It Out Of The Park On Phil’s Picks’ 2017 Top 10 New Family Box Sets List

Courtesy: Major League Baseball/Shout! Factory

Family programming.  What does one think of when one hears the term?  One probably thinks of stuff that appeals more to kids than it does grown-ups, right?  I.E. cartoons and other programming aimed at younger viewers.  The reality of family programming is that it can include programs that grown-ups can watch with their younger counterparts, whether it is something new or perhaps even something older such as the classic television shows that today’s grown-ups watched when they were children.

Keeping all of this in mind, one might ask what does that have to do with anything.  It is important to note in setting up Phil’s Picks 2017 Top 10 New Family DVD/BD Box Sets.  This year’s list features titles that will appeal to children and grown-ups alike.  Some of the material might even appeal to both audiences at the same time (E.g. Cook’s Kitchen Season 10 and America’s Test KitchenSeason 17).  Both titles are included in this list alongside the ninth season of Nickelodeon’s Spongebob Squarepants and even the 2017 World Series Collector’s Edition, which the whole family can watch together.  For those families who already enjoy baseball, it’s a great watch.  For those parents perhaps hoping to connect with their children over a common interest, it’s just as critical.  Add in everything in its presentation, and it proves an important release all the way around.

Also included in this year’s list are new Peanuts collections from Warner Home Video as well as the “new” Real Ghosbuters DVD set, which was released this past October.  It features “over 100 episodes” of the series.  That still is not the entire series, but it is more cost efficient than buying each of the standalone collections separately.  Originally aired in France, the programs included in those box sets definitely stand out from their American counterparts, but could still be entertaining for the whole family.  For older youths, this list also features recent releases from Saban’s Power Rangers universe.  Even Green AcresThe Complete Series has been pulled over as it might not wholly appeal to younger viewers, its content is appropriate for the whole family.  It is a family friendly sitcom — something that is sadly missing from television today.

Between the titles noted here and the others that make up the rest of this list, audiences will see that there is plenty out there for the whole family — just as much as there is solely for grown-ups.  As with every previous list, this list features this critic’s Top 10 new Family DVD/BD Box Sets alongside five additional titles for a total of 15 titles.  Without any further ado, here for your consideration is Phil’s Picks 2017 Top 10 new Family DVD/BD Box Sets.

PHIL’S PICKS 2017 TOP 10 NEW FAMILY DVD/BD BOX SETS

  1. 2017 World Series Collector’s EditionHouston Astros
  2. Green AcresThe Complete Series
  3. C.O.P.S.The Animated Series
  4. Cook’s CountrySeason 10
  5. America’s Test KitchenSeason 17
  6. Spongebob SquarepantsThe Complete Ninth Season
  7. Sports DetectivesSeason 1
  8. PeanutsSnoopy Tales
  9. PeanutsGo Team Go
  10. PeanutsSchool Daze
  11. Power Rangers SPDThe Complete Series
  12. Power Rangers Mystic ForceThe Complete Series
  13. Power Rangers Jungle FuryThe Complete Series
  14. The Secret World of Alex MackThe Complete Series
  15. The Real GhostbustersVol. 1 – 10

That’s it for this list.  Now we’ve got the top new box sets for grown-ups and for families.  Again, some of the grown-up sets are just as viable as family entertainment as they are for grown-up audiences.  That is a testament to the ability of their content to reach a wide range of viewers.

While this list is now done, there’s still work to be done.  There is still a list of the year’s top new Children’s DVDs as well as potentially the year’s top new independent movies, theatrical releases and overall movies to wind down the year.  It can’t all be guaranteed before the year ends tomorrow, but this critic will try nonetheless.  So stay tuned!

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 in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Burns & Novick’s New Vietnam Miniseries Doc Is A Must See For Everyone

Courtesy: PBS/Public Media Distribution

Year in and year out, PBS proves that it is the last bastion of truly worthwhile programming left on television.  In comparison to the programming put out by History, Discovery and even Science Channel, PBS’ programming stands solidly above those networks.  The documentaries put out by PBS and Public Media Distribution this year are proof positive of that.  They make up the majority of this critic’s list of 2017’s top new From the true history behind what was nearly one of America’s worst nuclear disasters in American Experience: Command and Control, to the hard-hitting (and fittingly titled) documentary The TalkRace in America, which focuses on relations between law enforcement and minorities, to even the Mythbusters-esque NOVASecrets of the Shining Knight and beyond, PBS has put out another strong crop of new documentaries this year.

Of course PBS is not the only company represented in this year list, despite its once again strong presence.  Smithsonian Channel and even MLB Productions are also represented here, too.  Leading off this year’s list of the top new documentaries is the The Vietnam WarA Film By Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.  This mini-series documentary presents both familiar and not so familiar information about the war as well as footage that is impacting in its own right.  Musical work by Nine Inch Nails front man Trent Reznor and his friend Atticus Ross add even more to the documentary series.  Also included in the list, as noted already, is American ExperienceCommand and Control, which focuses on what was nearly one of America’s worst nuclear disasters.  If that isn’t enough, there is also a history of the evolution of subway transportation in American ExperienceThe Race Underground.  MLB Productions gets a nod with its new 2017 World Series Documentary, which tells the full, in-depth story of this year’s World Series.  Smithsonian Channel’s nod comes in the form of the WWII documentary Hell Below, which focuses on the submarine conflict both in the Atlantic and Pacific theater.

As with every previous list, this list features this critic’s Top 10 titles in their category alongside five additional titles for a total of 15 titles.  Without any further ado, here for your consideration is Phil’s Picks 2015 top 10 New Documentaries.

PHIL’S PICKS 2017 TOP 10 NEW DOCUMENTARIES

  1. The Vietnam WarA Film By Ken Burns and Lynn Novick
  2. The TalkRace in America
  3. American ExperienceCommand & Control
  4. American ExperienceRace Underground
  5. Hell Below
  6. American ExperienceThe Great War
  7. Secrets of the DeadNero’s Sunken City
  8. NOVASecrets of the Shining Knight
  9. Secrets of the DeadGraveyard of the Giant Beasts
  10. Secrets of the DeadLeonardoThe Man Who Saved Science
  11. Secrets of the DeadAfter Stonehenge
  12. NOVAGhosts of Stonehenge
  13. 2017 World Series ChampionsHouston Astros
  14. Farewell Ferris Wheel
  15. NOVAKiller Volcanoes

That’s it for this list.  It’s not the end for the DVD and Blu-ray titles, though.  There is still more on the way including the year’s top new Family DVDs and BDs, best new DVD and DVD re-issues, and hopefully a couple of box set lists.  Stay tuned for all of that!

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 https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Aesthetic Issues Are Not Enough To Sink ‘Hell Below’

Courtesy: Smithsonian Channel/Public Media Distribution

Smithsonian Channel officially released its latest World War II documentary Hell Below earlier this week.  The two-disc collection focuses warfare waged from below the waves throughout the war.  It is not the network’s first time focusing on WWII submarine warfare, but it is still enjoyable in its own right, even despite its negatives.  The stories that are told over the course of the documentary’s two discs are collectively the documentary’s primary positive.  This will be discussed shortly.  While the stories do plenty to keep audiences engaged over the course of the documentary’s 360 minute (six-hour) run time, the documentary is not perfect.  It suffers from a pair of negatives, too, the most significant of which is the lack of an episode listing anywhere inside or outside the set’s box.  This will be discussed later and is hardly the set’s only negative.  While the set does suffer from some negatives, it is not a total loss, as already noted in regards to its featured stories.  The re-enactments, used to help tell the featured stories add to the stories.  That being the case, they are key in examining the set’s presentation, too.  Each element is important in its own right to the set’s presentation.  All things considered, they make Hell Below a program that is worth at least an occasional watch by history buffs and more specifically WWII history buffs alike.

Hell Below, Smithsonian Channel’s latest WWII feature presentation, is a program that history and WWII history buffs alike will appreciate.  They will agree in watching it, that it is a history-based program that is worth at least one watch.  That is due in part to the stories that are presented throughout the course of its six-hour run time.  The stories focus on some of World War II’s most significant submarine conflicts including conflicts in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters.  From the Allies fighting against German U-Boats to Allied subs fighting German and Japanese ships (and even saving allied troops), the stories tell a variety of intriguing pieces of the war’s history.  Audiences will be shocked to learn how Native American POWs were inadvertently shot and killed by American sea men after a German ship carrying them was sunk and the lack of fallout from that event.  Just as interesting to learn is the story of the American sub Harder in the episode “Destroyer Killer.”  This underdog story of sorts follows the crew of the Harder as it rescued allied commandos from Japanese clutches and survived multiple Japanese attacks en route to and from a covert surveillance mission. The sub’s sad fate following its return to its Australian base adds even more depth to the story.  The surprising story of two allied convoys’ escape from multiple U-Boat attacks in another episode is yet another truly interesting piece that will keep audiences enthralled. Between those episodes and the others not noted here, the stories in whole prove to be the most important overall element to Hell Below’s overall presentation.

The stories that are presented over the six-hour course of Hell Below are critical to the program’s presentation.  That is because from one to the next, the stories will keep history buffs, WWII history buffs and audiences in general enthralled with the stories of the Allies’ determination to defeat the Axis powers.  While the program’s featured stories are undeniably important to its overall presentation, the program is not perfect in its home release.  It does suffer from a handful of issues, not the least of which is the issue of its episode guide.  Audiences will be saddened to discover that the program’s episodes are listed only on the program’s menu.  In other words, audiences are forced to play the discs and virtually memorize which episodes are on which disc in order to know which is where.  There is no episode guide inside or outside the box even as an insert.  It may seem like a minor element about which to be concerned, but the reality is that having something as minor as an episode guide makes choosing which episode(s) to watch much easier and more enjoyable.  To that end, being forced to choose episodes only by playing the program’s discs detracts greatly from the program’s presentation in its home release.

On another level, the redundancy of the CG sequences and even some of the re-enactments takes away even more from the program’s presentation.  From one episode to the next, it seems like the same CG sub is shown attacking the same CG ship right down to the ships being hit by the same torpedos.  The same applies when the subs surface and dive.  Obviously this was a cost cutting measure.  That is understandable.  But the reality is that the Allied and Axis subs did not look exactly the same.  By presenting the same sequences over and over again, it presents the image that the subs all looked the same.  To that end, cost cutting might not have been such a good move.  Hopefully those behind this program (and Smithsonian Channel’s executives) will take this into account with the network’s next WWII documentary.

The lack of an episode guide for Hell Below and the redundancy of its CG sequences do much to detract from its overall presentation in its new home release.  The lack of an episode guide makes choosing episodes more trouble than it should be.  The redundancy of the CG sequences is takes away from the program’s aesthetic value on the surface.  That is because seeing the same sequences from one episode to the next eventually gets boring.  On another level, it raises a concern about presenting historical accuracy in regards to the design of the Axis and Allied ships and subs.  Considering all of this, these negatives greatly detract from the program’s overall presentation.  However, those negatives are not so great that they make the program wholly unwatchable.  The re-enactments that are used to tell the featured stories, while at times redundant themselves, add to the stories’ interest.  The actors enlisted to portray the crews of the subs and ships are to be applauded for their work on camera.  The tension on their faces and the very immediacy in their actions drives home the importance of the real crews’ efforts to defeat the Axis subs.  It truly serves to pull audiences even more into the story, even with their occasional redundancy, too.  Yes, even some of the re-enactment sequences are recycled in these episodes.  Luckily though, that recycling is not as common as the recycling of the episodes’ CG sequences.  Keeping this in mind, the re-enactments used to bring the stories to life prove to be another key positive to Hell Below’s home presentation.  When it is set alongside the positive of the program’s featured stories, the two do just enough to make up for the program’s negatives.  This in turn makes the program worth at least an occasional watch by history and WWII history buffs alike.

Hell Below, Smithsonian Channel’s latest venture in to the history of WWII, is an offering that is worth at least an occasional watch.  History and WWII history buffs alike will enjoy watching it every now and then thanks to its gripping stories and the re-enactments that are used to tell those stories.  The lack of an episode guide inside or outside the two-disc set’s box detracts from the program’s presentation to a point.  The same can be said of the redundancy in the stories’ CG sequences.  While the program is not perfect, the positives do just enough to make up for the negatives, thus making the program, again, worth at least an occasional watch.  It is available now and can be ordered online direct via PBS’ online store.  More information on this and other Smithsonian Channel programs is available online now at:

 

 

 

Website: http://www.smithsonianchannel.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/SmithsonianChannel

Twitter: http://twitter.com/SmithsonianChan

 

 

 

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 https://philspicks.wordpress.com.