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Missions That Changed the War: Germany’s Last Ace

Release Year:         2011
Studio:         Acorn Media
Format:         Colour/b&w; NTSC; 16:9 widescreen
Rated:         Not Rated
# of Discs/Episodes:         2 / 4
Running Time:         180 minutes plus bonus
DVD Release Date:         August 27, 2013
Screenwriters:         David Sakrison, Jon Tennyson
Directors:         Scott Guyette, Jon Tennyson
Narrated by:         Gary Sinise
DVD Features:         SDH subtitles
E:Top Picks Rating:          8/10

Acorn Media Write-up:    
After his defeat in the Battle of Britain, Adolf Hitler turned east and unleashed his blitzkrieg tactics on the Soviet Union. When he failed to capture Moscow or secure a Russian surrender, Germany faced a daunting scenario—a two-front war. As the Soviets pushed the Nazis back across the steppes, the RAF and the U.S. Eighth Air Force unleashed a sustained bombing campaign in the west.

In this riveting documentary, narrator Gary Sinise (Apollo 13, SCI: NY, Forrest Gump) tells the story of three men who played decisive roles in the aerial battles over Germany: Lt.Col. Hubert Zemke, Lt. Robert Rankin, and Luftwaffe squadron commander Gunther Rall. Through original footage, expert military analyses, and never-before-seen interviews with the participants. Germany’s Last Ace revisits the events of May 12, 1944, which Nazi armaments minister Albert Speer considered the day that Germany lost the war.

BONUS FEATURES
Interview with historian Dr. Kurt Braatz (22 min.)
16-page  viewer’s guide with reminiscences about Gunther Rall by writer/producer Jon Tennyson, a biography of Rall, and articles  on  Hitler’s two-front war and the German ideal of Lebensaum
Timeline of the momentous month of May 1944

Jon Ted Wynne Review: 
Previously, Acorn Media released The Doolittle Raid, the first documentary in the MISSIONS THAT CHANGED THE WAR series. It was truly outstanding and the review can be found here http://etoppicks.fulliautomatix.com/documentary/documentaryhistory/the-doolittle-raid/

High hopes, then, for subsequent documentaries in this series.

Alas, Germany’s Last Ace, despite some excellent attributes, is a disappointment.

Germany’s Last Ace is the story of three men who played decisive roles in the aerial battles over Germany. Most interesting of these is Luftwaffe squadron commander Gunther Rall. Had the film stuck with Rall it may have succeeded in achieving the same standard as The Doolittle Raid. Rall’s interviews are riveting, a real window into the past. In the accompanying 16-page booklet that comes with this 2 DVD set, Jon Tennyson, writer and producer of the program, describes Rall as “complex and unforgettable”.

A truly heroic figure, despite having fought for Germany, Rall was never a Nazi and distinguished himself after the war as well as during the conflict.

In stark contrast, the son of one of the American pilots featured in the story drones on and on in his interview segments, dry as bones and without much to say.

This curious mixture of brilliant and mediocre material undermines any possibility of this documentary measuring up to the standards set by its illustrious predecessor.

In addition to the unevenness, the structure of this four part film is maddeningly repetitive. Many such shows made for the History/Military/Discovery etc. channels utilizes the “re-cap” after every break (where commercials would be inserted). The needless repetition is particularly annoying when the narrative crisscrosses between the American and German story threads. The opening of each episode also includes a lengthy re-cap which is especially excruciating when you’re watching back to back episodes. This structure assumes a lack of attention, perhaps even intelligence, on the part of the audience. It seriously undermines the program’s effectiveness.

Gary Sinese’s Foundation, which actively promotes the work of service personnel, needs to pay a little more attention to just how easy it is for a documentary with great subject matter to slip under the radar of excellence into mediocrity.

It also needs to be pointed out, yet again, that the Canadians were step by step with the U.S. and Great Britain in most of the war in Europe. There are endless places where Canada is simply left out of the narrative. This is poor, even offensive, scholarship.

While I was disappointed in many ways with this DVD set, the fact remains that the story of Germany’s Last Ace–Gunther Rall–is a compelling one. If the program focused exclusively on him, it would be vastly improved. Not every war documentary has to have the United States front and centre. Otherwise call it Germany’s Last Ace… and Others.

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