- Bonus programs: "U.S.S. Eagle 56: Accident or Target?" and "Last Secrets of the Axis"
Released by: The History Channel
Rating: NR (images of concentration camp victims, both alive and dead)
Anamorphic: N/A; appears in its original 1.33:1 format.
My Advice: History fiends should own; everyone else rent.
The final days of World War II were brutal, eye-opening experiences for the world, as the Allied forces made their way across Europe, liberating people and finding the ashes of atrocities that the Axis powers had committed. There was the Battle of the Bulge, the fire-bombing of Dresden, the discovery of the concentration camps, the discovery of the enormous loot the Axis had collected, and the mad death throes of the Third Reich. Using interviews with soldiers from both sides of the conflict, as well as expert talking heads, this docu provides an overview of the final act of the worldwide conflict.
If there's anything the main docu on this set (and indeed, the set itself) proves, it's that my history teachers, for the most part, sucked. They somehow managed to leave out all of the really wide-eyed, "no shit!" moments of World War II. I mean, you hear about "Nazi Gold" in the context of all of the stuff that the Axis stole while it was ransacking the European continent, but you never (at least on this side of the pond) hear about the salt mine in Merkers where they found literally umpteen gazillion dollars worth of gold, currency, and artwork. The horror of the concentration camps is put across, yes, but you don't get the appropriate context: it was so horrible, that when the first reports came over, they were assumed to be Russian propaganda. It was only when Allies from the West began to encounter these hellholes that they simply had to be believed.
The final days are given a good going over, with enough details to make you feel like you're not unduly skimming. They also talk to soldiers, witnesses, survivors--all to get some context from people who were there. Then you've got some really serious experts to explain how things worked and why things went they way they did. It's fascinating stuff and bears watching just to get a better picture of how everything fell apart at the end. Did you know there was a fuhrer after Hitler? Probably not if you live in America. And that pisses me off.
Anyway, enough of that. For now. The only two features you have are bonus programs, and they're pretty solid as well. The first is about the mystery of the U.S.S. Eagle 56, which blew up off the New England coast, taking a solid portion of its crew with it. Marked down as an accident--and thus denying the crewmembers a purple heart--it nevertheless stuck in everyone's craw: they knew this had to be the work of a U-boat, it was just up to some folks to prove it. A good watch, it manages to bring the point across without being too melodramatic--a weak point that a lot of programs like this can have.
Finally, there's the "Last Secrets of the Axis," a positively stunning look at how close the Allies came to getting their collective ass beat and how a lot of what transpired was all because of one's man vision: Karl Haushofer. He was the one who came up with the concept of a Eurasian superpowered pact to counter the growing power of the West. He was the one who met with Hess and Hitler, and provided an in-road to the Japanese to bring them on board the Axis. Also amazing to watch are the CG animations of the "wonder weapons" that the Japanese were working up. Did you know they had aircraft carrier subs? In the field by the end of the war? I didn't. Did you know they had the ability and a plan to deliver a customized bubonic plague strain to San Diego in 1945? I didn't. Again, why isn't this stuff taught? I've even done some reading on my own and never caught this stuff before. Amazing!
I'll give this paragraph for the people who don't live on this side of the pond to laugh their asses off and point at the ignorant victim of American public schools, just in case they knew all of this already. Done? Okay, moving on.
Hardcore fans of World War II probably know everything that's in here already, but even well-read, well-educated folks I know had no clue about most of this when I quizzed them. Thus, I would say just about anybody needs to watch this thing just to see what they've been missing, although the hardcore should own.
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