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Review: WWII: The Most Important Battles (2006)

Director: – | 343 minutes |

The ten documentaries shown are: Dunkirk, Pearl Harbor (DVD1), Battle of Midway, Battle of El Alamein, Death at Stalingrad, Bombing of Monte Cassino (DVD2), Omaha Beach, Battle of Arnhem (DVD3) and Massacre at Malmedy, Battle or Okinawa (DVD4). The most striking thing about this DVD box is the unbalanced composition. A product has been put together from a grab bag of various documentaries of different origination with different themes that does not cover the load very convincingly. For example, some come from the series called “Military Blunders” and with a playing time of 20 minutes, they are very brief and only show main lines, without really giving information that is worthy of a documentary. The ten documentaries do indeed sometimes highlight one of “the most important battles”, such as Pearl Harbor, Stalingrad and the Battle of Arnhem; sometimes only a limited part of one of the most important battles is highlighted, such as Omaha Beach during D-Day and the bombing of Monte Cassino during the Allied offensive in Italy.

Unfortunately, in addition to the aforementioned short documentaries, a number of others have been worked out quite poorly: for example, the about Pearl Harbor has the bombastic subtitle ‘Seven Ways of Defiance’ and the story contains an annoying gasp for sensation and shows, among other things’ Bombing of Monte Cassino ‘and’ Omaha Beach ‘are the words of soldiers from both camps. The Americans are barely digestible with their clichéd patriotism, the Germans, on the other hand, are presented in wooden English speaking, which shows that reading a note can still be quite complicated. The most striking dissonance is the Massacre at Malmedy documentary. Not a battle, let alone a decisive one, but a small aside in the so-called “Battle of the Bulge”, the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944. Near Malmedy in Belgium, a column of American vehicles of an artillery battalion encounters SS Panzer troops advancing. The American prisoners of are then massacred and 81 unarmed soldiers are killed. An outrageous war crime, but in fact only a footnote in the long, bloody war full of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Ironically enough, the Massacre at Malmedy is one of the most interesting and extensive documentaries on the box, especially because it deals extensively with the subsequent investigation and 73 of the participating SS men are convicted after the war. After this, the investigation is criticized all the way to the Senate (partly due to the up-and-coming Joe McCarthy – in 2005 still the subject of George Clooney’s “Good Night and Good Luck”) and the SS men largely come off mercifully. Still, given the title, this had not belonged in the box.

The best and most informative is without a doubt the one about the “Battle of Arnhem”. A solid British production with a lot of information, exposure from different sides and the most important events explained by experts. Overview maps clarify the goals set and the situation on the ground at crucial points. A relief, given the very poor quality of most of the other documentaries. A few should not even use the latter name, they are so short and so little substantive attention is given to the important acts of war. Whoever watches “Dunkirk” or “Battle of El Alamein”, for example, does not get a decent picture of what actually happened. Most disappointing is “Death at Stalingrad”. A titanic battle and the turning point on the Eastern Front and perhaps the most decisive battle in the entire course of World II, in which the entire city was destroyed and hundreds of thousands of soldiers fought every meter of every house and street. The battle that led to the destruction of the German Sixth Army and dealt a blow to Nazi Germany that would never be overcome. What can rightly be called one of the most decisive battles of the Second World War, is rushed down here in the shortest conceivable period, without giving a clear overview of what actually happened. A sloppy and uninterested product, of which the makers should be ashamed. Actually, only two documentaries are really worthwhile, those about Arnhem and Malmedy. The rest can be regarded as superfluous and does not really add anything to the historiography of the Second World War. Anyone who wants to know something about the other battles can – despite artistic freedoms – even more historically correct information about, for example, Omaha Beach, Stalingrad, Midway and Pearl Harbor from respectively ‘Saving Private Ryan’ (1998), ‘Enemy at the Gates’ ( 2001), ‘Midway’ (1976) and ‘Tora! Torah! Tora! “(1970). And then everything becomes much more exciting and interesting told anter.

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