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A&E Home Video presents
The Great Escapes of WWII (1997)

"At night we played cards and sat thinking of missing Christmas, or how much we missed the taste of steak."
- Unmaned POW survivor

Review By: Kevin Clemons   
Published: September 05, 2001

Stars: Ed Asner (narrator)
Director: Robert Kirk

Manufacturer: DVSS
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for scenes of war and violence
Run Time: 03h:01m:22s
Release Date: August 28, 2001
UPC: 733961702897
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B B+BB- D-

DVD Review

Those that know me well know of my deep love for anything World War II related. From movies to books I find myself often hoping to be more immersed in knowledge about the conflict that helped define our Fathers' generation. Though for all of the novels and documentaries, there are very few informative DVDs out on the subject. Now thanks to both the History Channel and A&E a series of fascinating documentaries are now available on home video, and the results are sure to please even the most die hard World War II fan.

The Great Escapes Of WWII is a two-disc DVD set featuring four documentaries chronicling numerous escapes throughout the war. From the escape that was later transformed into the 1963 film The Great Escape to the largest escape on US soil, each documentary is well crafted and informative. Narrated by Ed Asner, each program showcases archival footage, current day interviews with historians and veterans, as well as recreated footage shot especially for the documentary.

The Great Escape (47m:08s)
Arguably one of the most daring and famous escapes from a POW camp, this documentary takes the viewer inside the camp walls and details the construction of three tunnels built to escape. Starting in the early 1940s until the end of the war over forty-five thousand pilots were taken prisoner, and many to Stalag Luft three, a German internment camp. Though life for the prisoners wasn't pleasant, those with images of torture and horrible living conditions will be surprised to see that the POW's were entitled to many activities. The prisoners constructed a theater, formed a band and played several sports... as well as having planned numerous escape attempts. In late March of 1943 seventy-six prisoners escaped captivity, with many returning only weeks later.

Escape From Arizona (49m:40s)
The story of twenty-six German U-Boat sailors is showcased in this documentary as the largest escape on US soil. In the desert outside of Phoenix, Arizona twenty-six German sailors fled into the desert hoping to make it to Mexico. Several hid out in caves while others turned themselves in to local authorities due to the extreme conditions in the desert. What I liked best about this documentary is that it is unbiased in its views, and includes interviews with the surviving members of the U-Boat squad as well as historians.

Escape From Dunkirk(32m:48s)
Quite possibly the most daring escape featured on the disc, this documentary tells the story of a group of soldiers who escaped under the guise of a gymnastics routine. Selections of interviews with historians as well as a few of the men who led the escape are featured in the half-hour program. While this is possibly the least interesting documentary in the set, it is amazing to see how these men pulled one over on their captors.

Escape From The Oklahoma (31m:26s)
On the morning of December 7, 1941, as the Japanese awoke a sleeping Pacific fleet, many of the crew of the USS Oklahoma became trapped as their vessel capsized. Fighting for air some 400 sailors lost their life—only a handful made it out alive. The most interesting of the four programs, this documentary is a fascinating account of the thirty-six hours of peril that the crew of the Oklahoma suffered through.

Great Escapes is a set without many flaws. Although the one disappointment is that the recreations seem cheaply done. In The Great Escape a set is constructed to recreate the tunnel, but lights and scaffolding can be seen to the sides of the frame. Aside from this one problem, the DVD set works. It is nicely packaged and wonderfully made.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: Featuring a full-frame transfer in each of the four documentaries, Great Escapes of WWII looks fine for the most part. Newsreel footage is flawed and scratched as one would expect, yet interview portions and recreations look fine with nice color and fleshtones. A nice transfer.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: Featuring a Dolby 2-channel mix Great Escapes of WWII has a dialogue heavy soundtrack, and for the most part it is well done. Dialogue is easy to understand and always sounds fine with no flaws, and the booming voice of Ed Asner comes across nicely.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 6 cues and remote access
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: No extra features are available on the disc.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

Great Escapes of WWII is a wonderful set of informative and educational documentaries showcasing the courage of men longing for freedom. Anyone wishing to learn even the slightest hint more about WWII would do well to pick this set up.


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