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Blu-ray Review

DVD cover

The World at War
The Ultimate Restored Edition


Narrator: Sir Laurence Olivier
Fremantle Home Entertainment
RRP: £99.99
Certificate: E
Available 20 September 2010

The World at War was first broadcast 31st October 1973, when memories of the Second World War were still clear in people's minds and the war's veterans numerous. This unique television series was able to assemble these recollections, together with archive footage into one of the most powerful and successful historical documentaries ever seen...

The previous DVD release (2005) of The World At War retained the mono soundtrack and, sadly, the numerous degradations present in the original film material. While these deficiencies were tolerable, presentation via a digital format made the documentary’s age all the more apparent. Thankfully, this new Blu-ray release more than addresses those faults.

For the Blu-ray version the original mono soundtrack has now been upgraded to 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio. This is an impressive enough specification to apply to the soundtrack of a new-release film, let alone a television documentary made in the early ‘70s. The work performed is remarkable and while you will not get the sub-bass booms of a modern action movie, the enhanced audio helps draw you into the documentary like never before. Incidentally, for systems incompatible with DTS HD Master Audio, a two-channel stereo soundtrack is provided by default.

An intense and careful restoration has been applied to each of the twenty-six episodes. Scratches, dust, film jitter, colour imbalances and other distracting artifacts have been thoroughly removed. The result is impressively clean images and the process has even noticeably improved the original war footage. One might be excused for being sceptical about the merits of authoring a 1970s television documentary to Blu-ray, but the effect of the restoration has been so dramatic that a high-definition format is a must.

As the restoration has been performed with an eye towards modern video technology, the picture ratio of the documentary has been changed from 4:3 to a widescreen 16:9. In order to achieve this, the restoration team needed to zoom in on the visuals so as to completely fill a 16:9 ratio display and this has resulted in some cropping of the image when compared to the 4:3 original. However, through careful digital tracking and panning techniques nothing of consequence has been lost. Purists may feel the adjustment of display ratio is one step too far, but, as an owner of the earlier 4:3 ratio version, I was not conscious of any detriment to the viewing experience. In fact, the adjustment of ratio has only served to enhance the impact of the material.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this series, don't be put off by the year it was produced. A more enthralling, powerful and, above all, informative work there is not. Thanks to a stirring narration by Sir Laurence Olivier, high production values, exhaustive research and interviews by those who were there, each 50-minute episode stands as the definitive word on the subject at hand. That 26 episodes were made in total is an astonishing feat.

The amount of research that has gone into this collection is amazing and the end result is a well rounded view of arguably last century's most important period.

This collection has a total running time of 35 hours and 39 minutes and contains all 26 episode - divided into five volumes which are spread out over 9 discs.

The extras include the making of the documentary, which is a new piece that replaces the making-of included in the previous release, and a general examination of war called Experiences of War. The extras conclude with a thorough explanation of the process involved in restoring and modernising the documentary. Each of these items is as fascinating as the core material and makes for a perfect compliment.

The World At War will always be the definitive World War Two documentary and this new version substantially improves on what was already an incredible piece of television. Owners of earlier releases would be wise to acquire a copy and I would thoroughly recommend the Blu-ray version in order to fully appreciate the impressive enhancements brought about by the restoration.


Jeff Watson

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