Not so much a film as an historical document of undeniable importance, “D-Day To Berlin” is a World War II aficionado’s dream come true. The docudrama follows allied forces through Europe from the Normandy invasion through the seizure of Berlin, and while there are scenes and images of irrefutable power and poignancy, I was left wanting a bit more. Perhaps it’s the film’s brief running time that goes by extremely quickly even for as short as it is. In watching this, I found myself beginning to appreciate why so many War films are as long and epic as they are. You need the first hour just to get into the correct mental state to appreciate what these men went through, at least another hour to go through it with them, and a short period to bring yourself back down from the experience. “D-Day To Berlin” gives you no such clichés, although in this case, it may have done itself a disservice by truncating so much of what must have surely been a treasure trove of extended footage. What’s more disappointing is how well the film plays, even as limited as it is. It almost made me wish it hadn’t been as good as it turned out to be. It shows you just enough and makes you feel just the right ways in what it attempts to do that it’s heartbreaking that it doesn’t add up to so much more.
Let’s start with the positive. This DVD is an indispensable piece of history, there’s no doubt about it. The color footage of the war is not only powerful but somehow quite visceral despite the relative lack of combat footage. Seeing a snapshot of these men at this time in history is nothing less than a moving, emotional experience. What’s more, the gut-wrenching footage of the holocaust victims in the film’s second half is seen here in excruciating detail, bringing the atrocities of mass murder and torture to vivid, surrealistic life. I was taken aback by these images, realizing perhaps for the first time that I had never before seen these things in such a harrowing, brutally matter-of-fact manner. There’s no substitute on any other World War II documentary I’ve ever seen or in any Hollywood dramatization for this kind of footage, and its relevance to the world alone makes this release worth picking up. Also powerful are the scenes in which allied soldiers march through recently liberated regions being hugged, kissed and adored by those they’ve freed from years of tyranny and oppression. As you can imagine,
these scenes are particularly resonant today and it’s quite an experience to watch this and feel even now both the pride and humility our country must have felt all those years ago.
And yet, for all its artistry and inherent impact, “D-Day To Berlin” will probably not appeal to those looking for either a war film or even a documentary of comprehensive scope. The draw here is the value of having this rare color footage documented and preserved, plain and simple. That being the case, the average consumer would probably be best served by giving this disc a rental before considering a purchase. The only problem is that such releases don’t typically lend themselves to such availability, and the list price is low enough on this one to warrant a purchase if you’re interested enough to have read this far. There’s more than enough to admire here, but just keep in mind that what you get here isn’t as all-encompassing as its title might suggest, nor as gripping as some other documentaries from the same period that you’ve most likely seen. It’s simply a record – a beautiful and horrifying record that doesn’t give you any more than is necessary to make its point. So in short, if you happen to be a World War II fanatic, you’d be hard pressed to find any release more irreplaceable. If you’re only moderately interested, this is a difficult recommendation.
Video: How does it look?
The 1.33:1 full frame image on this DVD is extremely difficult to gauge in a traditional way. This is archival footage and, as such, it’s relatively untouched and raw, as originally recorded. And so again, from an historical point of view, this is priceless. Not so much from a DVD critic’s perspective. Compression could be better, with even the newer footage looking sub-par. The archival footage looks, well, like something shot in the early 1940’s on a 16mm camera. Of course, it was, and so I find it difficult to rate its quality while keeping in mind what it’s there to accomplish. Debris is all over this footage and it’s a constant plague. The color footage actually appears to be in slightly better condition than the few clips of black and white footage presented, and while color is bright and vivid, contrast is (understandably) a bit exaggerated and pumped up. Some of the footage seems to be shot at 24 frames per second and other scenes are cranked for that fast-forward effect so associated with this type of material. I don’t quite understand why some of this footage was shot one way and some another, and I found that a bit distracting. Basically, if you go into this expecting an untouched archive, you’ll be satisfied. All others, you’ve been warned. Subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish.
Audio: How does it sound?
The only audio here is Dolby Digital mono, and it is there solely to compliment the video, not to raise eyebrows. It’s not bad for what it is, of course, but the source material simply doesn’t have the dynamic range to make this anything more than an inconsequential track. Some of the elements are in obviously mediocre condition, although a relative bar of quality is more or less adhered to throughout the presentation. There’s just not a lot to say about this audio presentation. The same rules apply here as to the video. Expect archival audio and you’ll come away happy. Expect “Saving Private Ryan” and you’re a bit unrealistic.
Supplements: What are the extras?
There are no extras on this disc. Nothing. Zip. Nada. Oh, wait! I take that back. There’s a few static menu screens and (drum roll) scene access as an added bonus. Try not to lose yourself for too long scouring over those 15 chapters. This is a disappointing section of the disc, as a feature that showed this much promise would have been an easy recommendation had it come with just a few nice additional features. Or at least something. Oh, well.