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PBS Home Video presents
D Day: Down to Earth (2003)

"We had probably five or six officers who were regular army officers, and the rest of the people were citizen soldiers. Draftees. They came out of jobs, families, schools, and they did the job."
- Paul F. Smith

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: June 02, 2004

Stars: Paul F. Smith, Roy Creek, John Marr, Frank Naughton, Robert D. Rae, Ed Barnes, Dick Carr, Bob Davis, John Hinchliff, Lou Horn, Howard Huebner, Ed Jeziorski, George Leidenheimer, Paul Mank, Bob Parks, Carson Smith, Jack Summer, Martin K.Morgan
Director: Phil Walker, David Druckenmiller

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (war footage)
Run Time: 00h:56m:51s
Release Date: May 11, 2004
UPC: 097368778443
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

When wave after wave of Allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944, slogging and fighting across the bloody sand under heavy machine gun fire from Nazi-occupied bunkers, they were part of what many consider one of the most defining and important days of the 20th century. What few may remember is that prior to the flotilla of landing crafts unloading the streams of infantry on the beaches was that regiments of Allied paratroopers had already been dropped behind German lines during the night. It is one thing to want to jump out of a perfectly good airplane, but it is another thing entirely to do it at night, under enemy fire.

There are certainly countless stories of courage and bravery to be told regarding the events surrounding D-Day, and in this PBS documentary, filmmakers Phil Walker and David Druckenmiller cover the truly amazing exploits of the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment. The 507th, who represented 2000 men out of the 13,000 U.S. paratroopers dropped on D-Day, suffered the worse misdrop of all the regiments who jumped that night. A misdrop, which is more dire than it may sound, means that they completely missed their target landing area, and poor weather conditions contributed to the 507th being scattered in small pockets across the French countryside.

For the first forty minutes or so of this 56-minute film, Walker and Druckenmiller allow a number of surviving members of the 507th to talk directly to the camera, and intercut with archival war footage, tell their stories of what happened to them, from the two years of training prior to the mission to the D-Day landing to their somewhat anti-climactic return home. The recollections about the battle for La Fiere causeway are simply mind-boggling—I can't think of any other way to describe it—and it is difficult to visualize when one vet describes that there were literally so many dead and wounded that it would have been possible to walk the entire 500-yard length of the causeway and never once set foot on the ground.

Author Martin K. Morgan, who has written a book on the 507th, pops in periodically to provide strategic analysis of the impact of the Allied strike, but what really makes D-Day: Down To Earth so riveting is hearing the veterans talk, and their words speak volumes. The last fifteen minutes follows the vets on a return visit to France on the 57th anniversary of D-Day, and we get to see the unveiling of a monument honoring them in the village of Graignes, the site of another 507th stronghold that was brutally overrun by Nazi troops, as well as a return to the site of La Fiere causeway for a memorial ceremony.

Watching these men speak, it is plain that the memories of what happened to them in France 60 years ago are as clear and as vivid as if they happened yesterday. I can't even come to close to understanding or relating to what it must have been like, nor do I think I really want to. Like all soldiers during wartime, these men, and untold others, went through what can only be considered living hell. I can't thank them all personally for their sacrifice and bravery, but Walker and Druckenmiller have done a fine job putting individual faces to a group of men who were there, and it made their actions seem all the more heroic.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

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

Image Transfer Review: Presented in 1.33:1 full-frame, D-Day: Down To Earth has been issued in its original aspect ratio as it was presented when shown on PBS. The majority of material here is talking head footage, intercut with archival footage, and in a couple of instances, re-enactments. No complaints whatsoever on the transfer, and it is undoubtedly cleaner and sharper than most cable companies can provide. Colors look natural and lifelike during the interview segments, and I'm always amazed at how good the quality is of some of the archival war clips, presented with a minimal amount of age-related deterioration.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: Audio is provided in a basic 2.0 surround stereo mix, and as with a lot PBS discs the presentation is probably a notch or two above the quality you would get if you were to watch this when it was originally broadcast. This doc consists primarily of men talking, without any tweaked sound extras to add emphasis to their words—it's just not needed here, believe me. Voices are clear, with no hint of distortion, even during the segments recorded outdoors at a memorial service in the French countryside.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 9 cues and remote access
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: No extras to be found here, other than a text link directing you to a PBS website. The disc is cut into nine chapters.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

The moving, frightening stories come from the men themselves, and it is near impossible to not sit in awe at the recollections of the days following their parachute drop into Nazi-occupied France on June 6, 1944.

Maybe not a required purchase, but this one definitely deserves to be seen.


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