'D-Day 360' review: Reconstructing the battle

Trailer for "D-Day 360," a PBS documentary which uses cutting-edge technology to tell the story of June 6, 1944. D-Day 360. (Credit: PBS)

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REVIEW

THE SHOW "D-Day: 360"

WHEN | WHERE Tuesday night at 9 on WNET/13

WHAT IT'S ABOUT "D-Day 360" deploys so-called Lidar, or light-sensing radar technology, to reconstruct various above- and below-ground aspects of Omaha Beach on D-Day, although the part of the battlefield that "360" pays closest attention to is so-called Vierville Draw, on the western end of Omaha Beach, where Company C of the 2nd Rangers, and Company A of the 116th Infantry Brigade of the 29th Infantry Division landed on the morning of June 6, 1944. The 116th had 341 causalities -- or 96 percent of its landing force -- in the first 10 minutes.

Lidar reconstructs some aspects of the battle -- notably, the movement of men and materiel -- and there are a few zoom-in-and-out panoramic re-creations, too. Otherwise, "360" offers a welter of statistics -- the intricate calculations of the invader thrown against the equally intricate calculations of the defender. In short, it's a story of numbers, many of them displayed on-screen: 130,000 soldiers onto the beaches, 40,000 defenders, 150,000 bunkers. And this: 2,499 U.S. soldiers killed, most before noon.

MY SAY Yes, numbers and more numbers do at moments give "D-Day" the look of a catalog. But get past those to the bells and whistles that "D-Day 360" really has to offer and you end up with a surprisingly informative and intelligent view of modern history's most important battle. There have been hundreds of programs on D-Day over the years -- a statistic that will grow in the coming weeks as the 70th anniversary approaches.

But "360's" contribution is one of perspective, enriched by the aforementioned Lidar, which provides different views of the beach that seek to explain the horror of that morning. The visuals are not as dazzling as they sound, but at least they do dissipate the fog of battle to some extent.

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What's best about this hour -- even as besotted with facts, numbers and technological wizardry as it can be -- is that it never quite loses sight of the soldiers. The story of two in particular is told here: Ray and Roy Stevens, twins from Bedford, Virginia -- 20 or so miles east of Roanoke -- who hit the same beach that morning with the 116th. One brother would survive, one would not, but their story -- of love, valor and loss -- towers far above all the stats "360" or anything else could muster. It is moving, indeed.

BOTTOM LINE Worth your time, if perhaps not as visually striking as you might imagine.

GRADE B+

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