Along with America’s fascination with flexing its military might, there is a correlative interest in celebrating said fascination, albeit in nothing necessarily more than the fashion of an armchair general. This is the reason for the entire existence of the History Channel — so that those who never paid attention in high school history class can regale their coworkers with newly learned facts about World War II and the Vietnam War. Ergo, there’s also a highly receptive audience for something like the three-volume Weapons of War: Volume 1, which examines in fetishistic detail the history of warfare and how new technologies have changed the ways battles are fought.
Ground War is the first title, a two-part feature film, narrated by R.J. Allison and co-directed by Roger Finnigan and James
Millar, which explores the key technological advances that have defined ground warfare through the ages. With classic examples like the stirrup and lesser known innovations like the gunner’s quadrant, the series reveals how even the smallest innovations can have a wide-ranging effect on not only the way armed conflicts are waged, but also their outcomes. Next up is Warplane, narrated by Stacey Keach. As one might surmise from the title, this sprawling title shines a light on the 100 years since the Wright brothers first took to the air, and how the airplane has evolved from a tentative eye in the sky into the ultimate weapons delivery system, via unmanned drones. Finally, narrated again by Keach, Warship tells the story of the evolution of the warships, right up to the United States’ current cutting-edge navy battle groups — made up of nuclear aircraft carriers and submarines, and a range of other high-tech and immensely powerful ships.
While the technological and spec detail here is sometimes wonky, Weapons of War also does a good job of locating enough personable in-points to make military culture and infrastructure make sense (and even seem appealing, in its just-the-facts-and-mission rigidity) to the average layperson. It would be nice — or at least more honest, and challenging — if there were a correlative look at how military industrial complex spending has both sometimes helped spur private industry offshoot technological advance and innovation, and also sometimes drained needed resources from other government programs and budget necessities, but that’s not what this set of movies is about, clearly.
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case with a snap-in tray, Weapons of War comes to DVD spread out on three discs, in 1.78:1 widescreen, with an English language stereo track. The meaty length of its feature presentations — totaling almost a dozen hours — renders the set’s lack of supplemental bonus features a bit less distressing. To purchase the DVD, phone (800) PLAY-PBS, or click here. Or if you need a DVD with public performance rights, click here. Finally, if Amazon is totally your thing, click here. B- (Movie) C- (Disc)