Apocalypse: The Second World War (UK - BD RB)
Our Marcus takes a look at the latest World War II documentary on Blu-ray...
Apocalypse is a six episode documentary series telling the story of World War II through archival footage. With the sixty/seventy year old footage cleaned up and subtly colourised we are shown the second Great War from multiple views. Home footage, news footage, propaganda film and generally anything the makers could get hold of.
From the opening scenes Apocalypse feels a little more accessible; it’s not doing anything that new and comes with a very school history lesson voice over (sounding not unlike Newsround’s John Craven), but the quick pacing and the visuals make for an interesting forty seven minutes per episode and some of the footage on show here makes a war I learnt about in school via text books feel a whole lot more accessible.
It’s actually quite amazing how much of the footage feels like a movie. Of course war movies have often tried to emulate footage like this and the show has obviously chosen shots to emphasize the points raised (like Hitler footage with him looking a bit more menacing to match the voice over telling us of his plots), but with the great work in the colourisation everything really comes to life and it’s amazing to think that despite the age of some of this footage, it doesn’t feel quite as distant as when it’s seen in black and white.
As far as the show goes, I’m not going to go into the subject matter because reviewing WWII seems a bit of a stretch, but for anyone out there who doesn’t know much about a very dark period in human history or are simply looking to revise the era this is a fantastic place to start. I didn’t feel it covered all the areas in as much detail as I thought it could have (and covered others a bit too much), but it does delve into the key points well and with a pace like this it’s a great tool in understanding the series of events and the order they fell in. On a side note, I also liked the parts where they’ll show a key figure in the war and after introducing him tell us what happened to them, for example: “General X shown here with the troops in 193x. He was celebrated for service to his country. In 194X he will be executed for war crimes”. In my comic book driven mind it reminded me of Dr Manhattan’s descriptions of how he perceived time and I liked how we got the two counterpoints of these historical figures in a couple of sentences.
On a personal note I’ve always found the subject fascinating and seeing the old footage while I studied WWII in school always drew me in, but Apocalypse with its well thought out colourisation, quick pacing and a whole host of sources used, WWII had never felt so accessible and it honestly made this historic world war come to life, which for anyone interested in the era couldn't really ask much more.
The transfer here is a hard one to judge. On a positive note out of extras or on TV, Apocalypse is by far the best to look at and it's all down to the restoration and presentation of the archival footage but the key here is the word 'archival'. With the source material this old and never really intended for much else outside of personal use or big screen presentation it's not exactly in prime condition.
There can be quite a bit of blocking in the larger black areas but it’s hard to tell if it’s the Blu-ray or the footage failings. The colourisation can sometimes look better in some footage than in others and down to the design of the show, everything's muted on the colour front.
That said, the image is technically brilliant. No inconsistencies, always sharp and as I said before, it makes the whole thing a lot more relatable because of it. Apocalypse is what it is and that's a documentary using old footage, on that front how this disc looks is a triumph but don't go expecting miracles.
Strong central dialogue and muted, subtle sound effects to fill it out and original recordings of speeches. That's all there is really, and while it's totally adequate and effective there's nothing exciting to report beyond that. This is a narrated documentary—simple as that.
Disc one has the laid back but pretty detailed 'Making of' (50:00 SD). French editors and creators alike discuss the challenges of the project including going through the six-hundred hours of footage, the colourisation and restoration and of course the events themselves.
Disc two houses the 'Archival Newsreel Footage' (58.56 SD), which shows off how rough looking a lot of this footage was. It a fine feature to compare how Apocalypse looks when compared to what we're used to and feels more like the stuff I saw in school.
For a fast paced whistle stop tour of World War II in its entirety and without the use of re-creating moments with actors (I hate when they do that), Apocalypse is an absolutely fantastic way to learn or revise the subject of the second world war.
The disc is a solid effort in HD but there's not a lot to get excited about other than the restored footage used in the documentary (which I guess in itself is the draw to wanting this in HD anyway).
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Exempt from classification
Release Date: 22nd November 2010
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Extras: Making of, Archival Footage
Easter Egg: No
Length: 282 minutes
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