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

 

 

 

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PBS Distribution To Release ‘Nazi Mega Weapons: Season 3’ On DVD Next Month

Courtesy: PBS/PBS Distribution

Courtesy: PBS/PBS Distribution

PBS Distribution has announced the home release date for the third season of its WWII-based series Nazi Mega Weapons.

Nazi Mega Weapons will be released on DVD Tuesday, September 13th. The latest installment of episodes from the series, Season Three focuses on the Blitzkrieg, Hitler’s mountain powerhouse topped with what has come to be known as The Eagle’s Nest, U-Boat Type 21 and the Nazi fortifications of the Channel Islands.  That is all just in the season’s first disc.

The set’s second disc expands beyond Hitler’s mega weapons and into the weapons used by the Japanese military including the battleship Yamato and the Tunnels of Okinawa.

Nazi Mega Weapons: Season Three runs 360 minutes (6 hours) and is spread across two discs.  It will retail for MSRP of $34.99 and can be pre-ordered online now via PBS’ online store.  More information on this and other titles from PBS is available online now at:

 

Website: http://www.pbs.org

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

Twitter: http://twitter.com/pbs

 

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PBS, National Geographic Take Audiences Beneath The Waves In A New Episode Of NOVA This Summer

Courtesy:  PBS/PBS Distribution

Courtesy: PBS/PBS Distribution

This summer, PBS will take audiences beneath the waves in an eye-opening new episode of NOVA.

PBS Distribution will release NOVA: Nazi Attack on America on Tuesday, July 14th. The story presented in this episode of the network’s hit science-based series follows Robert Ballard’s attempts to unravel the mystery around the sinking of the German U-boat U-166. The sub was one of many that lurked right off of America’s coast in the early days of WWII as part of what German forces dubbed “Operation Drumbeat.” For more than seventy years, the sub has remained so controversial because no proof could be obtained to prove whether or not the naval officer believed by many–including his own family–to have sunk the sub was truly responsible for its demise and that of its crew. Ballard, who is best known for discovering the final resting place of the doomed ship Titanic, takes the NOVA and National Geographic teams beneath the waves in order to try and solve the mystery of U-166’s fate in hopes of bringing honor to the officer and re-writing one more chapter of WWII history.

NOVA: Nazi Attack on America will be available Tuesday, July 14th on DVD and via digital download. It will retail for MSRP of $24.99 and can even be ordered online direct from PBS’ online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=61808026&cp=&kw=nova+nazi+attack+on+america&origkw=NOVA+Nazi+Attack+on+America&sr=1. Audiences can check out a trailer for this episode of NOVA online now via YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VCSZYtxp4II. More information on this and other episodes of NOVA is available online now at:

Website: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova

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

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.

Anchor Bay To Release New WWII Drama This Spring

Courtesy:  Anchor Bay Entertainment/Amplify Releasing

Courtesy: Anchor Bay Entertainment/Amplify Releasing

World War II is known today as one of the worst conflicts in human history. The destruction caused by the war and the war’s human cost was devastating to say the least. We have that knowledge thanks to those that survived and through extensive documentation both on paper and film. The combination of these elements has in many cases been translated into some of the most powerful and memorable stories of all time. Stories like that of Oskar Schindler, General George S. Patton, Jr., the battle of Midway, and the crew of the famed Memphis Belle are just some of those countless yet powerful stories that have come from one of the world’s worst conflicts. Now this spring, Anchor Bay Entertainment and Amplify Releasing will add another equally powerful story to those ranks when it releases the human drama Against The Sun.

Against The Sun will be released on DVD Tuesday, May 5th. The movie follows the story of three U.S. Navy airmen that crashed in the Pacific in the early days after America entered the war. After crashing in the middle of the Pacific without any food, water, or possible chance of help, pilot Harold Dixon (Garret Dillahunt—Deadwood, 12 Years a Slave, No Country For Old Men), bombardier Tony Pastula (Tom Felton—the Harry Potter franchise, Get Him to the Greek, Rise of the Planet of the Apes), and radioman Gene Aldrich (Jake Abel—Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, The Host, The Lovely Bones) must come together to survive. The trio faces not just the dangers of the open sea but its own emotional struggles, too as it floats thousands of miles from land. If this sounds familiar, it should. An equally well-known story is that of the crew of the U.S.S. Indianapolis, which was sunk by a Japanese sub, leading to the greatest loss of life at sea in U.S. Naval history. The 900 survivors of the sinking faced very similar challenges. Their story was turned into a made-for-TV movie in 1991 titled Mission of the Shark: The Saga of the U.S.S. Indianapolis. There is also a major motion picture centered on the ship in the works that will star Nicholas Cage. Getting back to Against The Sun, it will include a handful of bonus material including a behind-the-scenes featurette, a piece on the movie’s costuming, the movie’s special effects and more. The full list on bonuses is noted below:

  • A Behind-The-Scenes Look
  • A Plane Takes Flight
  • Starving at Sea
  • Working on Water
  • F/X: On Set and Off
  • Blisters, Burns, and Bites
  • Dressing The Part

Against The Sun will be available on DVD Tuesday, May 5th. It will retail for MSRP of $22.98. Its run time is ninety-nine minutes. More information on Against The Sun and other titles from Anchor Bay Entertainment is available online now at:

Website: http://www.anchorbayentertainment.com

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

Twitter: http://twitter.com/Anchor_Bay

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.

Timeless Media To Re-Issue Classic Crime Drama Next Month

Courtesy:  Timeless MEdia Group/Shout! Factory

Courtesy: Timeless MEdia Group/Shout! Factory

Timeless Media will release one of television’s most beloved classic crime dramas next month.

Timeless Media, in partnership with Shout! Factory, will release M Squad: The Complete Series on Tuesday, November 4th. The series stars famed actor Lee Marvin (The Dirty Dozen, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Shout at the Devil). It ran for three seasons on NBC from 1957 to 1960. Over the course of those three seasons, the series produced a total of 117 episodes. Marvin starred as the series’ lead character Detective Lt. Frank Ballinger, a rather straight forward type of figure among the force’s officers. Marvin’s background made him a perfect choice for the role of Ballinger. Marvin was a highly decorated Marine veteran who served in the South Pacific during WWII. He earned the Purple Heart after the Battle of Saipan.

While Marvin was the star of the show, he was joined over the course of the show’s run by a handful of actors that would go on to be just as well-known in their own right. Dick Wilson and John Hoyt both make appearances in a handful of episodes. Both would go on to star in the hit WWII-based sitcom Hogan’s Heroes after starring in M Squad. And Star Trek co-stars Leonard Nimoy and DeForrest Kelley also made appearances in M Squad. They’re just some of the big names that made appearances throughout M Squad’s run on NBC. There are many others that audiences familiar with classic television and movies will recognize throughout the series’ episodes in its latest re-issue.

The upcoming release of M Squad: The Complete Television Series (Special Edition) is not the first time that the series has been released. Shout! Factory also released the series in a complete series box set in 2008. This latest re-issue includes a bonus disc featuring episodes of Wagon Train, Checkmate, The Virginian, and Lawbreaker. Marvin guest starred in the first three series and served as host of the latter. M Squad: The Complete Television Series (Special Edition) will be available on DVD box set Tuesday, November 4th. It can be pre-ordered now via Timeless Media Group’s online store at https://www.shoutfactory.com/tv/crime/m-squad-the-complete-series-special-edition. More information on this and other releases from Timeless Media Group is available online at:

Website: https://www.shoutfactory.com/tentpoles/timeless-media-group

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Timeless-Media-Group/358391474233364

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D-Day 360 Is A Fitting Final Piece To PBS’ D-Day Trilogy

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

The world stopped this past June to note the seventieth anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy, France.  The battle on June 6th, 1945 is to this day the biggest naval operation of the 20th century if not in history.  While the battle is considered to be the beginning of the end of the war in Europe, it obviously wasn’t without its problems as has already been pointed out in PBS’ recently released programs Day of Days: June 6, 1944 and D­-Day’s Sunken Secrets.  Those programs, released just last month, both outline the work that was undertaken to make the Normandy invasion happen.  They also help audiences to see that the events of June 6th were only part of the story of D-Day.  Now in DDay 360, the last of PBS’ trio of programs centered on the D-Day operations, viewers get one of the most comprehensive looks at the initial operation that has been seen yet.

DDay 360 is a good finishing piece for PBS in its recently released trio of programs centered on the Normandy invasion.  The primary reason that it is such a good finale to the series of programs is its in-depth graphical examination of the events that unfolded on D-Day.  There are no re-enactments or anything of that nature.  What viewers get in this program is a visual presentation that fully immerses them in the events of that day.  It does so through the use of graphics that bring to life so to speak all the names and figures thrown out in so many documentaries before.  From graphic depictions of just how far German shells could fly from the beaches to depictions of how far Allied planes overshot Normandy on their bombing run to cover the ground forces and more, DDay 360 gives viewers a perspective like no other documentary before that has covered the Normandy invasion.  Rather than just churning out a bunch of names and numbers, those names and numbers get their own life of sorts, making the impact of this knowledge even harder hitting.  It really goes to show just how much PBS has surpassed the likes of History Channel now that that network has become little more than just another reality show network.

The graphic illustrations used through DDay 360 are central to the overall enjoyment and success of the program. Thankfully, those behind this program’s creation used more than just computer generated illustrations to advance the program and keep viewers engaged throughout its roughly hour-long runtime. Also incorporated into this program are stories told first-hand from a handful of veterans that fought at Normandy. These veterans don’t seem to be the same veterans interviewed for PBS’ previous pair of programs centered on D-Day (say that one five times fast). Every interview is important. That is because every day, there are fewer veterans left to tell the countless stories of that terrible conflict. Their addition to this program adds even more depth to the overall presentation. The end result is a program that is even more informative and entertaining for audiences whether they be in a military studies class or simply a history class. Audiences don’t even have to be in school to appreciate the interviews. They can simply be history buffs or military history buffs.

The use of computer generated graphics combined with actual stories from veterans that fought at Normandy are both key factors to the overall presentation that is DDay 360. By direct connection, the general lack of re-enactments in this program is subtle.   But it adds so much to the presentation in whole. It shows that those responsible for bringing the program to the masses understood quite well that less is more mentality. They knew where to draw that line between enough and too much. It’s just one more way that PBs continues to show that it is the leader in true educational content while networks that once led the way (E.g. History Channel, TLC, etc.) have fallen by the wayside. This subtle but oh-so-important factor is the final piece to a presentation that any and every military history buff, history buff and teacher alike will appreciate.

DDay 360 is available now on DVD. It can be ordered direct from PBS’ online store. More information on this and other programs from PBS is available online via PBS’ official website and Facebook page. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to the Phil’s Picks Facebook page and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog, too.

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

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

PBS’ NOVA: DDays 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: DDays 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: DDays 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: DDays 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: DDays 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 https://philspicks.wordpress.com.