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Blu-ray Review: Holocaust

September 30, 2019

By John Corrado

Originally airing in 1978 on NBC, the mini-series Holocaust is now available for the first time on Blu-ray in a new 2-disc set from Paramount. The series follows a fictional Jewish family throughout the 1930s and 1940s, unfolding over roughly a decade as the Nazis seize power in Europe.

The Weiss family is made up of father Dr. Josef Weiss (Fritz Weaver), his wife Berta (Rosemary Harris), their two young adult sons Karl (James Woods) and Rudi (Joseph Bottoms), and their teen daughter Anna (Blanche Baker). At the start of the series in 1935, Karl gets married to Inga Helms (Meryl Streep), the daughter of a prominent German family, leading to tensions between the two groups.

Meanwhile, Erik Dorf (Michael Moriarty), a young family man and a longtime patient of Dr. Weiss, is convinced by his wife Marta (Deborah Norton) to join the Nazis, and slowly but surely moves through the ranks from being a tentative SS Officer to a fiercely loyal member of Hitler’s inner circle and a fanatical supporter of the Third Reich. Following an inspection by Dorf, it’s not long before Dr. Weiss has his family practise in Berlin shut down, and he gets deported to a concentration camp in his native Poland.

The family is further fractured when Karl gets separated from Inga and sent to a labour camp, and Rudi runs away to become a resistance fighter, joining a group of other rebels who start stockpiling weapons and fighting back. The series charts the Weiss family’s collective struggle to survive as the Nazis try to realize their objective of removing all of the Jews from Europe, through imprisonment and eventually extermination at Auschwitz, while being met with fierce resistance and the eventual downfall of their murderous regime. The result is an involving historical drama that, through the guise of a sprawling family saga, does a fine job of detailing the abject horrors carried out by the Nazis.

While the Weiss family is fictitious, the series has been credited with helping bring more mainstream attention to different aspects of the Holocaust, including the still often overlooked fact that those with intellectual and developmental disabilities were among the first minority groups to be gassed as part of the ethnic and racial cleansing programs. The series reminds us of the terrifying fact that many scientists at the time supported the idea of eugenics, and doesn’t shy away from showing the mass killings that happened in the name of creating a “master race,” as well as the chilling casualness with which these genocides were carried out.

Directed by Marvin J. Chomsky, and written by Gerald Green, Holocaust remains quite engaging over forty years after it initially aired. The production values are solid, with the series having been filmed on location in Europe, giving it an added air of authenticity. It’s carried by excellent performances from its ensemble cast, including standout work from Woods, who delivers a remarkably sensitive and inward performance. This is matched by a chilling turn from Moriarty, who does a brilliant, terrifying job of portraying how an ordinary man could get sucked into propping up an inherently evil system and helping carrying out horrific crimes against humanity, going from being a passive observer to a calculated killer as he becomes corrupted by his lust for power.

The series is also notable for helping put Meryl Streep on the map, having been released the same year as The Deer Hunter, which got the actress her first of many Oscar nominations. While it’s now being sold partially on her name, she is not actually the centre of attention here, and is very much just a supporting player. Critically acclaimed at the time of its release – the series was honoured with two Golden Globes and eight Emmys – and still holding up now upon modern viewing, Holocaust comes highly recommended on Blu-ray, working as both an important work of historical fiction and as an emotionally charged character drama.

The Blu-ray set includes no additional bonus features on either of the discs. While the package lists the series as being presented in its original 1.33:1 (4:3) aspect ratio, it’s worth noting that the discs actually appear cropped to 1.78:1 (16:9) to fill the screen of a standard HDTV. I should also add this set includes a 452 minute version of the mini-series, which is close to the 448 running time that IMDb lists for the Region 2 DVD and longer than the 420 minute Region 1 release, but shorter than the original running time of 475 minutes. There is no indication of what has been cut from its original broadcast.

Holocaust is a Paramount Home Media Distribution release. It’s approximately 7 hours and 32 minutes and rated 14A.

Street Date: September 24th, 2019

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