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A&E Home Video presents
D-Day: The Total Story (1994)

"The one thing the generals couldn't be certain about was how or if a soldier could cross that beach alive."
- Gerald McRaney

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: April 26, 2004

Stars: Gerald McRaney
Other Stars: Stephen Ambrose
Director: Robert Lihani

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (war footage)
Run Time: 02h:18m:00s
Release Date: April 27, 2004
UPC: 733961711639
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ A-BB B+

DVD Review

The Allied invasion of the French beaches of Normandy in June of 1944, a massive and sweeping assault against German General Rommel's fortified beachhead that proved to be one of the turning points in World War II, has become synonymous with bravery, daring, and brute force. The very phrase, which, prior to that day was simply military jargon code for a particular mission, has come to mean June 6, 1944, and nothing else. It has been immortalized and retold in countless war films, and this two-disc set from the History Channel presents an informative three-part chronology, using a blend of narration, interviews, and archival footage.

Originally broadcast in 1994, D-Day: The Total Story, is hosted by Gerald McRaney (Major Dad, Simon & Simon), and consists of three separate 45-minute episodes, covering everything from the initial military planning in 1940 through the deadly Allied march through France. McRaney's narration is properly somber, and is occasionally broken up by interviews with assorted soldiers from the campaign, from the U.S., Canada, Poland, and the French resistance—even a few Germans. Hearing from the actual participants is what keeps this from being simply a play-by-play of the events, and when we hear them describe the smells, sounds, and ever-present danger in their own words, it really manages to bring everything to life. Stephen Ambrose, prolific D-Day author and historian, serves as the de facto armchair strategist, discussing the event as if it were some huge chess game, offering comments on how this flank moved here and that division was cut off there.

The first episode is D-1, and addresses the pairing of Eisenhower and Montgomery as the leaders of the invasion of Normandy, tackling the unprecedented logistics of sending a quarter of a million Allied soldiers to meet the German army head on. There is quite a bit of detail on the extensive training of the military, and this segment ends just as the gliders have dropped the first wave of paratroopers behind enemy lines on June 6th. H-Hour is the next segment, and this is where it is all about the infantry wave that hit the beaches, and the narrative makes good use of the recollections of assorted soldiers, one of whom recalls his main directive was simply to "get off the beach". Good advice, indeed, but the chaotic weather conditions and assorted tactical mistakes only served to further aggravate what was already an incredibly dangerous mission. Things wrap in the third piece entitled Breakout, which touches on the eventual progress made by Allied troops as they moved through the bloody hedgerow battlefields of France, and here we learn of the Sherman tanks, with their thin armor that came up against the mighty German Panzers.

History Channel productions are generally strong, well-researched endeavors, and D-Day: The Total Story is one of those, easily meeting all of the criteria required of a history lesson that is as relentlessly fascinating and exciting as it is informative and detailed. Watching the archival footage and hearing the stories will no doubt send a chill down your spine.

Awe-inspiring stuff.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

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

Image Transfer Review: All segments are presented in 1.33:1 full-frame, which corresponds to their television origins. The extensive archive footage is, well, archive footage; the quality varies, though overall the image detail of this old material is consistently quite good, considering its age. The modern day interviews (circa 1994) are presentable, but not especially vivid, and the sporadic segments with host Gerald McRaney have some noticeable shimmer.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: Audio is provided in a basic 2.0 stereo mix, with little in the way of anything especially remarkable to differentiate it from sounding any better than a typical television broadcast. Don't go in expecting an expansive, thundering presentation, and you won't be disappointed. The narration and interview segments are clean and hiss-free, and the post-production sound effects added to the archival footage sound fine, though they lack any discernible bottom end.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
4 Documentaries
Packaging: 2 disc slip case
Picture Disc
2 Discs
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Here's a case where the extras run longer than the feature, with four additional documentaries running well over three hours in length. Disc 1 houses an installment of A&E's award-winning Biography series, this time chronicling Dwight Eisenhower (44m:21s), and while it only spends a marginal amount of time covering the planning of D-Day, it is an informative overview of his storied life.

Disc 2 contains a couple of pieces that will appeal to military buffs, starting with The True Story of the Screaming Eagles: The 101st Airborne (01h:31m:57s), a comprehensive look at one of our most celebrated divisions. Yes, this is a rather long one, full of tactical and technical training facts, but it is fascinating nonetheless. Spanning key events and battles from D-Day through Vietnam and into the first Gulf War, the segment offers a well-deserved insight into the inner workings of the 101st. Battle Stations: Sherman Assault (44m:36s) relives the history of the Sherman tank, using a blend of archive footage and the dreaded "reenactments" to tell the story. Interesting stuff, especially when discussing how the fast-moving Shermans fared against Germany's long-range Panzers.

The best, and certainly the most moving of the supplements is Dear Home: Letters from World War II (44m:02), which skips the military hardware and focuses on the people who were there, via their letters home. In case you have forgotten that war is fought by young men and women with lives, families, and fears, this segment will most definitely remind you of that. Wonderfully done, and alone makes this two-set worth checking out.

Each of the three primary D-Day segments are cut into 6 chapters each, with no subtitle options.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

This two-disc set brings together some amazing archival footage and present day interviews with the soldiers who were there to create a very detailed, comprehensive recap of what must have truly been hell on earth.



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