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Old 2009-11-01, 12:58   Link #1
TinyRedLeaf
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Apocalypse: The Second World War (2009)



The National Geographic Channel marks the 70th anniversary of World War II with a powerful, six-part series, Apocalypse: The Second World War.

Apocalypse tells us about this huge conflict through the tragic destiny of those who went to war (soldiers) those who suffered from it (civilians), and those who ran it (political and military leaders). The "horrible yet familiar" war led to the deaths of 50 million men and women across the world — making for the first time as many civilian victims as there were military casualties.

==========

Before I delve into my reactions to this amazing documentary about World War II, take a look at the sometimes chilling — and often heartrending footage — that the producers had painstakingly put together. Some of the material had apparently been declassified only recently. Archives that had been filmed in black-and-white were colourised to create a sense of immediacy that such war documentaries rarely achieve.

Scenes from Apocalypse



Incidentally, if the soundtrack sounds vaguely familiar to anime fans, don't be surprised. The reason is that the music was composed by none other than Kenji Kawai, the very same man behind the soundtracks of Ghost in the Shell, Seirei no Moribito and The Sky Crawlers.


Ending theme by Kenji Kawai



==========

Pay very close attention to the footage of the young boy at the end of the clip above. We don't know his name. He looks barely 18, perhaps younger. He has just been taken prisoner. His fear and bewilderment are achingly apparent.

He is Hitler Jugend.

And that, is one of the many reasons I find myself profoundly moved by this series. To be sure, as a factual record of World War II, it is not that great a documentary. Many key events, battles and personalities are either overlooked or summarily glossed over. Its coverage of the Pacific Theatre is particularly weak, often feeling like a mere afterthought. The story of the war is told mainly from an European perspective — whether that's a result of the producers' bias, or simply due to the lack of footage from Asia, I do not know.

But I can easily forgive these flaws because the producers were clearly aiming for something very different with this project. After all, there is no lack of material about World War II — we don't really need yet another detailed chronicle of events. What we do need, on the other hand, is an attempt to capture the human face of the greatest global conflict known to man.

That is what Apocalypse provides that few other war documentaries have yet been able to do. The prologue of the second episode, Crushing Defeat, is particularly poignant in this regard. It tells the story of a young toddler, two-year-old Rose Gowlland, living in London during the Blitz of 1940. She was the cutest little thing. There she was, playing with pots and pans in the kitchen, going through emergency air-raid drills, helping her mother shovel snow from their front lawn, while the engines of war flew overhead, bringing with them a rain of death.

The reality of the war — its grim deprivation, its sheer industrial scale, and the obstinate ability of humanity to bear it all — hit home to me at that very moment.

These were people — ordinary human beings living through what are by now unimaginably extraordinary times. A time when more than half the populations of Europe, Asia and the United States were still farmers. A time when land was still a commodity of sufficient value for soldiers and generals to wage bloody battle over.

A time when nation-states were still a fairly "new" political invention, when "nationalism" was not yet a dirty word. A time when it was still widely acceptable for people to believe themselves superior to others for no other reason than the accident of birth and skin colour.

A time when entire nations could still be swept away by the electrifying charisma of larger-than-life individuals, literally losing their heads in the process.

Today, while we can study the chronicle of these momentous events, I doubt if many of us can truly fathom the circumstances that made these events not just possible, but also plausible for the people of that era.

We are the children of the apocalypse, and we no longer remember what it feels like — what it means — to prosecute total war. But through such documentaries, we can at least seek to remember the sights and sounds of its consequences. We can, hopefully, learn to empathise with friends and foes alike; because, in the end, we are all made equal by our suffering.

Most of all, we can remember never, ever, to forget. Never again.
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Old 2009-11-02, 23:43   Link #2
LeoXiao
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I think it's annoying that here in the US we don't actually learn about WW2 until late high school (and sometimes not even then), and when we do learn about the war, it makes it seem like we did all the fighting, and were the absolute good guys.
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Old 2009-11-02, 23:47   Link #3
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Originally Posted by LeoXiao View Post
I think it's annoying that here in the US we don't actually learn about WW2 until late high school (and sometimes not even then), and when we do learn about the war, it makes it seem like we did all the fighting, and were the absolute good guys.
Do you think we are the only country who does this? They are trying to point out what a [sarcasm]great[/sarcasm] country this is, and show how much we care for are allies.
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Old 2009-11-02, 23:51   Link #4
LeoXiao
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Do you think we are the only country who does this? They are trying to point out what a [sarcasm]great[/sarcasm] country this is, and show how much we care for are allies.
Yeah, but in other countries they actually learn the history formally, rather than from movies and games. No matter how messed up the textbooks are, a teacher is a lot better than Hollywood.
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Old 2009-11-03, 00:29   Link #5
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Looks cool love WW2 history had a uncle who flew a p-38 in the pacific and a p-51 in Europe I'd keep him up all night talking about it. Sadly though I don't have the NG channel hopefully it will come out on dvd or blu-ray would be even sweeter.
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Old 2009-11-03, 03:17   Link #6
TinyRedLeaf
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Originally Posted by LeoXiao View Post
I think it's annoying that here in the US we don't actually learn about WW2 until late high school (and sometimes not even then), and when we do learn about the war, it makes it seem like we did all the fighting, and were the absolute good guys.
In case it was not clear, Apocalypse: The Second World War is not made in America. It is, in fact, a French production by CC&C Louis Vaudeville and France 2. It was directed by Isabelle Clarke, Jean-Louis Guillaud and Henri de Turenne, and written by the historian Daniel Costelle.

Source: http://www.kenjikawai.com

Interview with directors and Kenji Kawai

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Old 2009-11-03, 07:20   Link #7
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Originally Posted by TinyRedLeaf View Post
In case it was not clear, Apocalypse: The Second World War is not made in America. It is, in fact, a French production by CC&C Louis Vaudeville and France 2. It was directed by Isabelle Clarke, Jean-Louis Guillaud and Henri de Turenne, and written by the historian Daniel Costelle.

Source: http://www.kenjikawai.com

Interview with directors and Kenji Kawai

Yep it ran here on the french public channel during this summer (and gathered a very considerable audience: the last 2 episodes gathered almost 30% of the public).
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Old 2009-11-03, 07:32   Link #8
Narona
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Originally Posted by TinyRedLeaf View Post
The National Geographic Channel marks the 70th anniversary of World War II with a powerful, six-part series, Apocalypse: The Second World War.
Yeah, it aired during the summer in France, since it was produced by the French

Mathieu Kassovitz (I like his voice ) was the narrator

After the last episode, there was a debate with the producers, and we learned how they tried really hard to get some infos and videos from america, japan, etc. But IIRC, they said there was some videos that they couldn't use since they didn't get the agreements from the countries that shared it. IIRC, they used only 30% of the materials they collected.

But actually...... there is a better (i think, because it goes way more in details) documentary (in many, many parts) that is actually airing in France on the channel France 5 every sunday. I heard it is produced by the USA (not sure).
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Old 2009-11-03, 07:54   Link #9
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But actually...... there is a better (i think, because it goes way more in details) documentary (in many, many parts) that is actually airing in France on the channel France 5 every sunday. I heard it is produced by the USA (not sure).
Yes there are (a lot) of excellent American documentary on WW2, but since they are mostly aired on documentary channels, their audience is quite limited (broadcast on France 5 rather than 2 or 3 speaks for itself).

What's new for Apocalypse is that in France, it was aired on prime-time on a major public channel, allowing it to reach more than 1/4 of all spectators. Plus it was designed as a grand production, not a "simple" documentary.
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Old 2009-11-03, 07:58   Link #10
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I was disappointed that this show don't mention much about my country's involvement in WW2 despite it has the UK's bastion in it(Singapore was part of Malaya back then). Considering it was made by the French, I couldn't argue much.
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Old 2009-11-03, 07:59   Link #11
Narona
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Originally Posted by JMvS View Post
Yes there are (a lot) of excellent American documentary on WW2, but since they are mostly aired on documentary channels, their audience is quite limited (broadcast on France 5 rather than 2 or 3 speaks for itself).

What's new for Apocalypse is that in France, it was aired on prime-time on a major public channel, allowing it to reach more than 1/4 of all spectators. Plus it was designed as a grand production, not a "simple" documentary.
True true. That way, a lot of young people (middle/high schoolers to college students) watched it. The producers were really happy about that.

It gave me some faith that the young generations are not entirely full of morons yet (je vais pas me faire des amis là *sifflote* )
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Old 2009-11-03, 11:28   Link #12
TinyRedLeaf
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Originally Posted by Narona View Post
After the last episode, there was a debate with the producers, and we learned how they tried really hard to get some infos and videos from america, japan, etc. But IIRC, they said there was some videos that they couldn't use since they didn't get the agreements from the countries that shared it.
That explains a lot actually. Thanks! As I've suspected, the producers probably had difficulty sourcing for archived footage from those countries, hence the paucity of coverage on many key events and battles, particularly in the Pacific Theatre.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Narona
But actually...... there is a better (i think, because it goes way more in details) documentary (in many, many parts) that is actually airing in France on the channel France 5 every sunday. I heard it is produced by the USA (not sure).
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True true. That way, a lot of young people (middle/high schoolers to college students) watched it. The producers were really happy about that.
As I've said, Apocalypse isn't the best World War II documentary in terms of depth of information and analysis. But I don't think that's the main intention of this documentary. After all, there is already more than enough material available for an in-depth study of the war, so we don't really need another typical war documentary to add to the collection.

What we do need, on the other hand, is a popular account of the war. And by "popular", I am referring to something for general audiences rather than specialists.

That's what this documentary does extremely well, in my opinion. The focus, throughout the series, was on ordinary people. On how the war affected people from all walks of life, from rural farmers to urban workers, and not just the aristocracy. From mothers to daughters, and from old men to boy soldiers.

This is a history of the "little people", and not just the mighty movers and shakers of entire nations. So, it is not surprising that many young people enjoyed it — they can relate much better to the people onscreen, because they remind them of people they know in daily life. This documentary achieves a level of intimacy that few other such documentaries achieve. And that's something worth praising.

The colourisation of archived footage, in particular, did wonders for a lot of the material. I don't know about other people, but watching something in black-and-white automatically creates an artificial "distance" between me and a show. The actors in the show would feel "less real", not unlike how I would regard characters in an anime.

In contrast, watching Hitler onscreen — in full colour — rallying the German people with his speeches, I immediately get a sense of being there in person. And I get one step closer to understanding how an entire nation could have been swept away by his rhetoric, by his sheer charisma. At the same time, his frailty towards the end of the war also becomes more obvious — more human. I am reminded that Hitler was just a man, loved by one woman, as much as he was the Fuhrer, fanatically revered by many.

At the same time, the evil of the Holocaust, of hatred fuelled by racism, of pure wartime brutality — it all becomes more chillingly "real" thanks to the colour footage. It all serves as a disturbing reminder of how man is just one step removed from being an utter beast.
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Old 2009-11-03, 12:25   Link #13
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Originally Posted by TinyRedLeaf View Post
This is a history of the "little people", and not just the mighty movers and shakers of entire nations. So, it is not surprising that many young people enjoyed it — they can relate much better to the people onscreen, because they remind them of people they know in daily life. This documentary achieves a level of intimacy that few other such documentaries achieve. And that's something worth praising.
There was fairly recent Dutch documentary called 'In Europa' (In Europe), a documentary about 20th century European history, which has done a similar approach e.g. telling the history from the point of view of the people, especially interviewing those who've experienced it. Sadly enough the documentary isn't available in English but if this documentary is similar I'll check it out.
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Old 2009-11-03, 16:41   Link #14
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Originally Posted by TinyRedLeaf;2746856In contrast, watching Hitler onscreen — in full colour — rallying the German people with his speeches, I immediately get a sense of being there in person. And I get one step closer to understanding how an entire nation could have been swept away by his rhetoric, by his sheer charisma. At the same time, his frailty towards the end of the war also becomes more obvious — more [I
human[/I]. I am reminded that Hitler was just a man, loved by one woman, as much as he was the Fuhrer, fanatically revered by many.
On this subject, I strongly recommend watching Downfall.
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Old 2009-11-03, 20:04   Link #15
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On this subject, I strongly recommend watching Downfall.
Is it wrong for me to think that the scenes with Hitler yelling were hilarious?
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Old 2009-11-03, 20:29   Link #16
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That explains a lot actually. Thanks! As I've suspected, the producers probably had difficulty sourcing for archived footage from those countries, hence the paucity of coverage on many key events and battles, particularly in the Pacific
Since it was airing in prime time, I think they also chose to remove many shocking moments and details. Like what the Japanese did when they arrived in China (they raped all the girls from 7yo to adults during two weeks IIRC what was said in the US documentary that i was talking about)

Or some details of the horror of what the Russian did in eastern europe while the USA and the UK were just looking elsewhere.

Or what some bad things that some Allies did too (raping women and such) in enemy territory.

Or IIRC how the Japanese used Korean girls as forced prostitutes for the japanese army.

Etc etc.

Of course, I fully understand their choices, because some of the things I've seen in documentaries that does not air in prime time, I would not want the 12yo kids to see it raw. Not now. I think Apocalypse is mainly a trigger that can make people interested in the History and how was that gigantic war. Now if they want to go for the details, if they are interested, they can.



Quote:
What we do need, on the other hand, is a popular account of the war. And by "popular", I am referring to something for general audiences rather than specialists.

That's what this documentary does extremely well, in my opinion. The focus, throughout the series, was on ordinary people. On how the war affected people from all walks of life, from rural farmers to urban workers, and not just the aristocracy. From mothers to daughters, and from old men to boy soldiers.
Yup

Quote:
This is a history of the "little people", and not just the mighty movers and shakers of entire nations. So, it is not surprising that many young people enjoyed it — they can relate much better to the people onscreen, because they remind them of people they know in daily life. This documentary achieves a level of intimacy that few other such documentaries achieve. And that's something worth praising.
That's true, and it is partly thanks to all the images recorded at that times, mainly by common people or in the different armies. There are some Epic moments, like when the US fleet was waiting for the upcoming battle with the Japanese Fleet. Felt like a final duel from a Western.

Quote:
The colourisation of archived footage, in particular, did wonders for a lot of the material. I don't know about other people, but watching something in black-and-white automatically creates an artificial "distance" between me and a show. The actors in the show would feel "less real", not unlike how I would regard characters in an anime.

In contrast, watching Hitler onscreen — in full colour — rallying the German people with his speeches, I immediately get a sense of being there in person. And I get one step closer to understanding how an entire nation could have been swept away by his rhetoric, by his sheer charisma. At the same time, his frailty towards the end of the war also becomes more obvious — more human. I am reminded that Hitler was just a man, loved by one woman, as much as he was the Fuhrer, fanatically revered by many.
The colourisation was criticized by some people actually. They mainly think that it was wrong to touch to those archives. There were also some people who criticized that they coloured "just like that". But in the debate that I was talking about, they explained how they did it. Given the different shades of gray, they were able to find which colors were the good ones.

About Hitler and the others, I was myself kind of speechless at some moments. When for example we can see Hitler talking while looking at so many soldiers. And the colorisation helped to recreate that ambience. Something that kind of impresses the young generations. Given how some movies and games try to recreate that ambience, I would even say that "fascinates" many of them.

Quote:
At the same time, the evil of the Holocaust, of hatred fuelled by racism, of pure wartime brutality — it all becomes more chillingly "real" thanks to the colour footage. It all serves as a disturbing reminder of how man is just one step removed from being an utter beast.
And actually, they didn't show some ugly parts of this war (like what I pointed above)

Last edited by Narona; 2009-11-03 at 20:42.
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Old 2009-11-03, 21:18   Link #17
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On this subject, I strongly recommend watching Downfall.
that movie was a great meme generator
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Old 2009-11-03, 23:09   Link #18
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On this subject, I strongly recommend watching Downfall.
Ya good movie I wasn't expecting a lot going into the movie, but I think it turned out pretty well. Definitely learned some new things about Hitler not that I didn't all ready know he was a very paranoid madmen.
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Old 2009-11-03, 23:25   Link #19
SeijiSensei
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I looked at my TV schedule to see when this is airing in the US. Smithsonian Channel will broadcast it over six nights from November 11-16 at 8 pm with a repeat at 11. I've already programmed my DVR to record it. (We'll still need to watch my recordings of Ken Burns's national parks documentary series to make room before then. That 160 GB drive in my DVR doesn't allow you to store very much in HD, just the way Hollywood wants.)
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Old 2009-11-04, 10:55   Link #20
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Originally Posted by JMvS View Post
On this subject, I strongly recommend watching Downfall.
great movie
Though I also laugh at Hitler yelling, here we made several Dutch parodies in which for example they wanted to have a a day out to the zoo but Hitler wanted bowling and the rest didn't agree "I WANT TO GO BOWLING !!"
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