Made to celebrate the 70th anniversary of D-Day in 2014, "IMAX D-Day: Normandy 1944" has enjoyed a successful run in IMAX cinemas around the world. It's now available on home video in a 4K UHD/Blu-ray combo pack and on DVD from Shout! Factory.
Narrated by former NBC newsman and "Greatest Generation" chronicler Tom Brokaw, the 42-minute film gives an overview of the War in Europe before detailing the planning and execution of Operation Overlord, the June 6 invasion of Normandy that altered the course of the war and assured an Allied victory.
If you've got shelves full of books and DVDs on World War II, you've got to realize this film was not made for you. There's not much detail or nuance going into a film this short, but the filmmakers aimed to introduce the subject to a generation that knows nothing about the war.
If you watch "IMAX D-Day: Normandy 1944" through the eyes of a middle schooler frogmarched into the theater during a science museum field trip, you realize just how effective a film like this can be in introducing World War II history to a new generation that has no direct connection to the era. Now that it's on Blu-ray, the film is short enough that it can also be an effective tool for history teachers trying to engage their classes on the topic.
The film uses spectacular helicopter photography, animated maps, colorized photos, dramatic reenactments and simple "sand animation" sequences to tell the story. In fact, the helo sequences are so good, let's walk back the idea that there's not much here for hard-core WWII buffs. Exact locations are labeled in the aerial shots, and anyone with a thorough knowledge of the day's events can get a spatial perspective not possible from reading books or looking at overhead shots of the area.
Director Pascal Vuong is French, so he makes sure to emphasize the Resistance's oft-overlooked role in D-Day's success. The American perspective comes from the film's historical adviser, retired U.S. Army colonel. and former War College professor Peter Herrly. Herrly now lives in Paris and works on military film projects via his Blue Line Films company.
The home video release includes interviews with Vuong, Herrly and narrator Brokaw. There's also a documentary featurette about the location filming in Normandy, a fascinating clip about the technique behind the film's sand animation, and another about score composer Franck Marchal and the music's recording with the London Symphony Orchestra.
Like other IMAX films, "IMAX D-Day: Normandy 1944" looks incredible in 4K. There's not yet a way to recreate the immersive experience of an actual IMAX theater at home, but a home video release like this one provides one of the best home viewing experiences possible.
While the content might only skim the surface of the history of June 6, 1944, the presentation is both innovative and compelling. The filmmakers have kept the blurry archive footage to a minimum and created a presentation that hopefully will engage a new generation of viewers.