December 7, 1941 may well be a day that will live in infamy but from all of the recent interest in Pearl Harbor you would think that the Japanese surprise attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet’s home base took place in May, not December. While the hype surrounding Michael Bay’s impending blockbuster is getting a little out of hand, any occasion that encourages people to reassess their increasingly forgotten history is certainly welcome.
And who better qualified to jump on the Pearl Harbor bandwagon than the folks at the History Channel. This new two DVD set offers up three original documentaries focusing on Pearl Harbor and other aspects of the American involvement in World War Two.
Disc one features ’Tora, Tora, Tora: The True Story of Pearl Harbor.’ Similar to it’s namesake feature film, ’Tora’ examines the events surrounding the Pearl Harbor attack in chronological order. The program opens with a brief overview of the political, economic, and military realities of the region in 1941 and ends with some ruminations over the lessons learned from this attack and a very brief summary of the rest of the war. But the bulk of the feature deals with the events that occurred on the morning of December 7, 1941. Using archival footage, present-day views of the Pearl Harbor area, computer animation, and countless first-person accounts and interviews, the documentary offers up a very engaging and even-handed account of the attack. Those who fought in World War Two are becoming fewer and fewer so the interviews with American and Japanese veterans are particularly valuable.
Disc two features two bonus programs: ’Admiral Chester Nimitz: Thunder of the Pacific’ and ’America’s Five-Star Heroes.’ The Admiral Nimitz documentary offers a very balanced account of the life of the low-key naval commander who helped to engineer the defeat of the Japanese Empire. Frequently overshadowed by the more flamboyant General Douglas MacArthur, Chester Nimitz’s quiet confidence and willingness to attack soon had the beleaguered U.S. Navy on the offensive. ’America’s Five-Star Heroes’ offers a somewhat less in-depth look at other key American military commanders in World War Two.
The DVDs are presented in their original 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio. The newly shot video is uniformly excellent with a nice, sharp picture and well-balanced colors. Obviously the stock footage exhibits a wide range in terms of quality but this is to be expected. The picture is nothing fancy but it’s more than adequate for this type of program.
Audio is presented in a very basic Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo mix. This is the type of sound mix one would expect to hear from a made-for-television documentary and, while there’s nothing special about the soundtrack, it’s always clearly audible.
The only bonus feature appears on disc one and is entitled Pearl Harbor Facts. These ’facts’ are nothing more than a few static pages of text that do nothing to augment the feature documentaries. Press releases for this DVD set — and even the History Channel website — claim that the program ’Military Blunders: Pearl Harbor,’ as well as an in-depth technical manual containing schematics of the aircraft and naval ships involved in the battle, are included in the DVD set. Alas, these promising-sounding extras are nowhere to be found.
’The History Channel Presents Pearl Harbor’ offers up three separate documentaries focusing on Pearl Harbor and some of the American military leaders who went on to defeat Japan. The audio and video quality are decent enough for this type of program but I can’t help but feel that the lack of any insightful extras is a real missed opportunity. While the discs are certainly worth a look, they offer nothing above and beyond their broadcast versions and can’t really be recommended on their own merit.