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WarplaneWarplane, and Dogfight Over Guadalcanal on DVD

Though not exactly related, these two DVD's give you excellent looks at the evolution of the military aviation, and one particular example of its application in the real world. If you include these with your viewing of such war films as Eastwood's Iwo Jima movies, Flyboys, Battle of Britain, The Dam Busters, etc., you get an excellent background of the planes that changed the face of war, the tactics that exploited them, and the people who flew them.

Warplane is a four part series detailing "A century of fight and flight" from the early days when aviation was a mere curiosity to today's state-of-the-art stealth aircraft such as the B2 bomber and the F22 raptor fighter.

Narrated by Stacey Keach, the episodes follow a roughly chronological order from delicate biplanes (and not so delicate "heavy" bombers of WWI), and through innovations in technology and tactics such as the introduction of armaments to what had been merely airborne observation platforms, how engineers learned to fire machine guns through spinning propellers without shooting off the propellers, the introduction of bomb sights that brought bomb aiming from a more "hit and/or miss" perspective to something approaching pinpoint accuracy, the jet revolution, the sound barrier, and much, much more.

The episodes are:
Program 1: Airplane to Air Force
Program 2: Air Force to Air Power
Program 3: Jet Power
Program 4: The Spy

Episode four's title is a tad misleading because, while it does deal substantially with spy planes and, through them, stealth technology, there's a lot more to it than that.

The show uses vintage footage, computerized recreations, and some more contemporary footage of many vintage planes in question, as well as clips of historians and those who were actually there to draw us a pretty substantial look at how military aviation got to where it is today.

Well, nearly. There isn't a lot about support craft such as the transports, refuelers, etc., and this is a bit of an oversight, since planes such as the Lockheed Hercules and Douglas DC-3 (C-47) have also carved out a well-earned and respected niche in military aviation history.

But what they've given us is fascinating stuff that makes us look forward to reviewing a similar series, but on the history of civil aviation. Granted, a lot of commercial aviation got its technology from military applications initially, but that doesn't mean the evolution from such classics as the DC-3 through the Super Continental, 747, Concorde and the like.

The DVD is presented in anamorphic widescreen, 16x9 TV compatible, and the picture quality is very good (archive footage notwithstanding). The picture is sharp and clean and the colors are rich. Audio is Dolby Digital stereo and it's also very good, though we'd have liked to have heard some of the planes better (the music and narration often get in the way, though it's understandable).

Dogfight over GuadalcanalDogfight over Guadalcanal is a one hour episode of the "Secrets of the Dead" series and deals with one encounter between a Japanese ace in his Zero and an American Ace in his Wildcat.

The time is early August, 1942, mere months after Pearl Harbor brought the U.S. into World War II. American forces are in the Solomon Islands, trying to capture the Japanese-controlled area and prevent the enemy from finishing an airstrip from which Japanese planes could threaten shipping lanes.

Soon after the Americans began their attack on Guadalcanal, a wave of Japanese bombers escorted by Zero fighters headed toward the island, tasked with bombing the Allied ships supporting the American attack.

Japanese ace Saburo Sakai was one of the Zero pilots. James "Pug" Southerland was one of a handful of Wildcat pilots from the U.S.S. Saratoga who joined the battle. Fate brought the two together in a dog fight that saw two highly skilled and motivated pilots duke it out in a deadly aerial ballet from which only one of them would fly away.

Fortunately, while only one flew away, both pilots survived long enough to document their experiences, and that was the source of the producers' recreation of this fascinating snapshot of military history. That, and (as the DVD case spells out) forensic evidence from the actual wreckage of one of the planes (we won't say which one lest we spoil the story) creates this retelling, which gives us looks at the strengths and weaknesses of each plane as well.

It's very interesting stuff, a compelling tale well told.

Dogfight Over Guadalcanal is also presented in anamorphic widescreen, enhanced for 16x9 TV's, and the picture quality is excellent. Audio is Dolby Digital stereo, and the sound quality is also very good.

Warplane, from PBS Home Entertainment
240 min. anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1, 16x9 TV compatible), Dolby Digital stereo

Dogfight Over Guadalcanal, from PBS Home Entertainment,
60 min. anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1, 16x9 TV compatible), Dolby Digital stereo


Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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