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D-Day: Normandy 1944

Directed by Pascal Vuong. Narrated by Tom Brokaw. 43 minutes. Opens at IMAX 3D theaters across the country in May; check local theater listings.

This relatively brief take on D-Day outpunches its weight. A cogent overview of the Battle of Normandy focusing on the invasion, the film uses a state-of-the-art palette of cinematic techniques that keeps adults in the game while making it especially attractive and useful for kids. In fact, the filmmakers have built an educational package around it.

The history is solid and well-told, if necessarily elliptical. Director Pascal Vuong, who wrote the script, has managed to hit not just expected high-visibility points (Pointe du Hoc, Caen, Omaha Beach) but touches on all five beaches, and even sketches events up to the Falaise pocket. Along with detailing Allied airplanes (“They were painted with stripes for D-Day, so they would be easily recognized and avoid friendly fire”), he includes Ike’s chosen mechanical D-Day heroes, like the jeep and bulldozer. And as Vuong tracks the movements of hundreds of thousands of Allied and Axis troops and partisans, he focuses on individuals from all sides, humanizing the massive operations.

But Vuong’s true creative contribution comes with his imaginative visuals. Not so much the digitized, stereoscoped, and colorized photos and footage from the period, though those work well enough in IMAX 3D. What’s truly striking are the transitions. Vuong uses animated sketches, in both black-and-white charcoal and impressionistic color, to bridge between scenes—a simple-seeming yet inspired change-up that alters the emotional mood, letting viewers catch their breath after a fact-laden segment. Even more clever is his animated storybook, which opens to display drawings and key questions like “When?”; this recurring chapter break orients viewers toward what’s coming.

Threading throughout is Tom Brokaw’s distinctive voice. (No, he doesn’t utter the words “Greatest Generation.”) Brokaw says he only did the film because it avoids the usual D-Day clichés. That assessment, it turns out, points to D-Day: Normandy 1944’s greatest strengths.


Originally published in the August 2014 issue of World War II. To subscribe, click here.