Paramount Home Video
Cast: Fritz Weaver, Rosemary Harris, Michael Moriarty, James Woods, Meryl Streep, Ian Holm, David Warner
As a teenager in 1978 I witnessed a TV mini-series that shook me to my foundation. For the first time the atrocities of the Nazi Regime, the horrors of the Jewish genocide were driven home to me in a matter that was tangible. Not the dry dissertation in history books, but a film that had incredibly human emotion and characters that were real living beings. The series, of course, was "Holocaust" and it imprinted itself in my mind indelibly.
The series tells the story of the Jewish family Weiss from Berlin. A medical doctor (Fritz Weaver), his wife Berta (Rosemary Harris) and their three children (James Woods, Joseph Baker and Blanche Baker) are suddenly thrown into the torrent of Jewish eradication as they try to hold on to sanity and their family ties. But it quickly becomes apparent that the Nazi power is stronger than they had ever expected and that the Final Solution does not exclude anyone, not matter what their profession or standing may be. Over the course of five 90-minute episodes witness how they are torn apart, humiliated, beaten, abused, and even killed before the war is over. The series also shows many of the people in their periphery, ranging from in-laws who denounce their relatives, siblings, spouses and the friends they make along the hard way of despair. And yet they never give up hope. It is the only thing that keeps them alive during their struggles, the hope that they may be liberated and saved before it is all over.
The series also focuses and Eric Dorf (Michael Moriarty), an SS career officer driven by the blind ambition of his wife, as he masterminds the Final Solution for Reinhard Heydrich (David Warner). A lawyer by profession, he coins publicity-friendly terms for the Jewish genocide, plans the cover-up, implementation and execution of his plans and ultimately oversees the murder of millions of Jewish people – all without ever having the slightest regrets or second-thoughts.
Since "Holocaust" there have been a number of great films about the Third Reich, Hitler's attempt to eradicate the Jewish people from the face of the Earth, and the unbelievable horrors and suffering it caused. And yet, despite the greatness of films such as "Schindler's List" "Holocaust" remains as one of the most eye-opening experiences and is film that should be required viewing for anyone – especially those in our society who have this misguided sense of superiority, believing that they are better than others. Humans are all equal whether they are rich or poor, regardless of their ethnicity and heritage, and no matter where they are hailing form or where they might live. To me the struggle for supremacy is one of the things I will never understand and as history has shown over and over again, it is nothing more but misguided greed that breeds pain and violence.
In inhumanity of the Third Reich becomes so much more tangible when you see stories like this, where peace-loving people are dragged into the single-worst atrocity the world has seen, without their own wrong-doing, simply because they are. Steadfastly believing in the good in people, impassive and non-confrontational, the Jews are paralyzed victims and this behavior amplifies the gruesome coldness of the German SS to despicable heights. One has to wonder how people like Dorf, Heydrich or Himmler were capable of living with their guilt, of course, but it is beyond anyone's comprehension also how even the simple SS and Wehrmacht's soldier could possibly commit these atrocities, killing tens of thousands of people in a single day, looking them in the face and live with it.
The universal excuse is that of simply obeying orders, of course, but it is still hard to believe that there has been virtually no resistance among the soldiers or the Jews for that matter. In retrospect we also see much of the cowardice that went along with it. The people who were so strong, determined and superior when it came to dealing with the Jews suddenly turned into cowards who took their own lives or forever tried to hide the fact that they took part in the genocide. To this date there is heated debate about how much of the goings-on certain groups of people knew and as evidence mounts, people are still in denial about the extend of the involvement. Like Dorf's children who exclaim "My father is a hero!" there are millions of German children and grandchildren saying the same thing simply because they can't wrap their minds around the fact that their family may be related to these demons or because they are simply afraid to admit it. The documentary The Unknown Soldier touches deeply on that subject for those readers who may be interested.
Needless to say that the power of a film like this comes not only from the material itself but from the remarkable portrayal of its characters. Featuring a stellar cast that includes luminaries like James Woods, Meryl Streep, Ian Holm, David Warner and many others, the performances are remarkable to say the very least. "Holocaust" was nominated for 15 Emmy Awards and went on to win eight of them in 1978. Deservedly so, as anyone who has seen the film can attest.
I was very eager to see the show on DVD. I had not seen it since it's broadcast in 1978 and while I remembered certain images and themes, I was eager to revisit the entire saga, if only to remind me once again of the horrors of the past so I would never forget.
Coming as a 3-disc DVD set from Paramount Home Entertainment, the release features the original fullframe presentation of the min-series with its original mono audio track. While I was sucked into the series once again the way I was many years ago, I do have to point out that the presentation quality on this DVD is mediocre at best and pretty bad at its worst. The transfer is extremely soft and offers very little detail. Many shots are blurry and filled with excessive noise. The noise sadly also leads to compression artifacts throughout giving the release a look that is reminiscent of a used VHS Tape. Add to it the poor black levels, lack of contrast and incredibly weak colors and you have a release that inevitably reminds you how far video technology has come in just the past 10 years.
The same is true for the audio, unfortunately. With an extremely limited frequency response the audio track on the release has virtually no bass. As a result the presentation sounds harsh and tinny throughout with occasional distortion. The lack of surround also adds to the dated quality of the track. Dialogues are always understandable but sound as if recorded through a tin can and with exceedingly obvious instances of ADR dubbing.
No extras are included in the release at all, which comes hardly as a surprise, considering how poorly the release has been treated by the studio overall. I mean, it doesn't even have subtitles, marking a new low even for Paramount.
"Holocaust" is a powerful mini-series that needs to be seen. It is like a wake-up call that I think all of us need every once in a while. Given the current political climate in the world, I think films such as this can help us find the humanity in ourselves and remember that we are all equal, regardless of our heritage and religious beliefs. Sadly the quality of the DVD is very poor and hardly recommendable but since it is the only available version of the film, get it anyway.