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A&E Home Video presents
Great Blunders of WWII (1998)

"Only five thousand of the ninety-one thousand German soldiers who went into captivity ever saw their homeland again. The others died of disease and starvation in Soviet prison camps, victims of Hitler's refusal to face reality. Such was the legacy of Hitler's blunder at Stalingrad, a blunder that turned the tide on the Eastern Front."
- Narrator Stan Watt

Review By: Dale Dobson   
Published: October 06, 2000

Stars: Stan Watt
Other Stars: Adolf Hitler, Dwight Eisenhower, Winston Churchill, Hermann Goehring
Director: Jonathan Martin

Manufacturer: Nimbus
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (some graphic military carnage)
Run Time: 04h:19m:07s
Release Date: May 23, 2000
UPC: 733961701067
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- A-C-B- D

DVD Review

A&E Home Video and The History Channel produced Great Blunders of WWII in 1998, a documentary series originally aired under the less-sensationalistic title Military Blunders. The series uses authentic World War II footage to illustrate tales of strategic errors and technological failures by both the Allied and Axis forces which contributed to the ultimate outcome of the greatest War to date. The DVD includes 12 episodes (8 "standard" episodes plus 4 "bonus" episodes):

The German Blunder at Dunkirk
Hitler's Declaration of War on the US
The Pilot Who Bombed London
Hitler's Flying Blunders
Battle of the Bulge
Bridge Too Far
Japan's Mistakes at Midway
The Failure of the Kamikaze
Death at Stalingrad
Operation Sea Lion
Bomb Plot to Kill Hitler
The Scattering of Convoy PQ17

Great Blunders of WWII is nicely put together in the History Channel tradition, backed by solid research and presented with entertaining, well-written narration. The archival footage is fascinating; while it rarely corresponds directly to the events unfolding in each episode, it's sufficiently impressive that related footage exists at all. Shots of plane crashes, paratroopers by the hundreds and Japanese troops-in-training are included here, and while the narration is occasionally accompanied by generic clips of Hitler or Churchill, the visuals (especially some rare color footage) impart great energy and immediacy to the program. There's a bit of cross-episode repetition (for example, the failures of Goehring's Luftwaffe are central to two episodes) and more attention is paid to German military errors than those of the Japanese, but the content is always focused and interesting.

Certain limitations of the programs' television format are apparent; commercial break fadeouts are sometimes awkwardly timed, and the endings of several episodes seem compressed and abrupt. One suspects that a more relaxed format might have allowed for better integration and pacing in a few cases, but this is a minor issue; footage of dead and damaged soldiers is quite graphic, so content restrictions do not appear to have been a problem. The tone of each program is serious, despite some episode retitlings ("Blunders of the Luftwaffe" has been renamed "Hitler's Flying Blunders" on the DVD packaging and menus)—while some of the events described have their humorous aspects, this isn't a "blooper" compilation by any means. It's an instructive, educational and occasionally frightening look at World War II, providing detailed looks at specific events which might have changed the course of world history had they turned out differently.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

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

Image Transfer Review: Great Blunders of WWII is presented in its original made-for-television 1.33:1 full-frame aspect ratio. The bulk of the material consists of archival footage of widely varying quality, from scratchy, damaged, grainy black-and-white silent "home movie" material to fairly clean color footage; the only newly-produced visual elements are illustrative maps and credits. The DVD is drawn from broadcast-quality videotape and looks acceptable given the source, relatively clean and solid despite frequent softness and some scan-line flicker here and there. Thankfully, the program's producers took the time to ensure low-frame-rate silent footage was transferred at the proper speed, and it's nice to see so much valuable historical material preserved in one place. It's a shame that higher-resolution film-scan transfers of some of the better-quality footage weren't made; as it is, the DVD image is not great, but it's certainly watchable.

Image Transfer Grade: C-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: A&E presents Great Blunders of WWII with a Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track, largely centered with subtle left/right/surround envelopment in the musical score (intentional or otherwise). It's standard TV documentary sound, with all narration and sound effects centered and almost no bass at all, but the audio is perfectly serviceable and cleanly mastered for DVD.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Packaging: Amaray
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. DVD Production Credits
Extras Review: A&E's Great Blunders of WWII 2-disc set features few supplements in the standard sense, just 4 text-menu chapter stops for each disc's "standard" episodes and a screen of DVD Production Credits. Each disc does feature two full-length "bonus" episodes, though oddly enough no chapter stops are provided for these, and each disc opens with a History Channel promo trailer, which the good folks at A&E kindly allow viewers to skip with a tap of the Menu button. Since this is documentary material to begin with, few "extras" suggest themselves; the simple menus and navigation are competently implemented, there's just not much to discuss here.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

Anyone with an interest in the real story of World War II will find A&E's Great Blunders of WWII fascinating viewing. Well-researched history is brought to life with incredible film footage shot during the War, and you're likely to learn a few things not mentioned in most history books. A&E's 2-disc set is cleanly mastered considering the material's made-for-TV nature, and it's a fine value with 12 episodes of the popular History Channel series. Recommended.


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