This groundbreaking 26-episode documentary series is now as far removed in time from its 1973 TV debut as its makers were from the turbulent historical events that they were chronicling.
However, The World At War remains the ultimate television retelling of the Second World War. Given a comprehensive and noticeable makeover for its Blu-ray release, this set becomes the definitive version of a much-revisited and vital historical series.
The newsreels, propaganda footage, battlefront film, home movies, and unique ‘talking head’ interviews with wartime participants have all been painstakingly reconstructed.
Some of the unreconstructed clips in the Making Of material may be noticeably blurry and worn in comparison, but a new 30-minute featurette details the improvements.
It may be technical, but this explanation is also eye-opening in regard to the comprehensive nature of the work done. Also given the HD makeover are the comprehensive bonus documentaries that were previously released on DVD.
These additional instalments continue to develop and revisit the series’ major themes in the light of new historical discoveries. For these specials Eric Porter effectively replaces original narrator Laurence Olivier as the voice of authority.
Meanwhile, series producer Jeremy Isaacs appears in the extras to outline in some detail the approach taken to creating the original series (freely admitting that it is a constructed history telling a specifically selected story, rather than an objective account of the war).
Given its lasting value as a document of a major historical event, it is all the more surprising to remember that the series was made for and broadcast at peak time on ITV – it’s hard to imagine it appearing there today!
This dramatically revitalised release is the best way to revisit The World At War. Each episode tells a concise and self-contained story structured around a particular battle, event or location.
Some episodes become more thematic, such as those towards the series’ conclusion showing life inside Hitler’s Reich or detailing the Holocaust. The final episode of the 1973 series was simply titled ‘Remember’.
Interviews with wartime survivors ask the viewer never to forget the events the series covers, so as never to repeat them. It confirms The World At War as a prime example of powerful television documentary, and is a reminder to us all of the importance of learning from the past.
This definitive history of the Second World War has been painstakingly reconstructed. Indispensible.