D-Day: Normandy 1944 director Pascal Vuong had his work cut out for him. He had to convey the events and meaning of the Battle of Normandy in under an hour, for a family audience. All in all, he did pretty well.
Vuong’s film is screening at the Science Museum of Minnesota’s Omnitheater from January 9 through February 19 as part of the annual Omnifest: a four-film festival that, this year, will also include reprise screenings of The Living Sea, Hubble, and Flight of the Butterflies. The event encourages Omni fanatics to binge, and gives families visiting the museum a few flicks to choose from.
D-Day steers away from the grisly realities of combat, but otherwise Vuong and his team use every trick at hand to accomplish their mission. There are animated maps, historical re-enactments, and CGI fly-bys…and you knew an Omni film wouldn’t omit sweeping helicopter shots of the French shoreline.
Vuong even tosses in a few tutorials on WWII-era military vehicles. The decision to focus on unarmed vehicles like Jeeps and plows was presumably made so as to avoid glamorizing guns, but it does make the segments feel distractingly unnecessary in what’s otherwise a tightly structured film.
There’s another reason for the segments, though, hidden to us: they’re presented in the form of a computer-animated pop-up book, which would niftily show off the film’s 3D technology if it were shown in 3D, which it is not at the Science Museum.*
The most unexpected technique used by Vuong and his team is also one of the most effective: sand animation, which allows scenes both intimate and grand to be conveyed in a manner that evokes both the contested beaches and the grainy quality of low-light cinematography.
D-Day is easy to recommend in the same way that Star Wars breakfast cereal was recommended to me by Saturday morning TV commercials: as part of a balanced diet. There’s a lot about the Second World War that D-Day only briefly touches on (the war in the Pacific), and much that isn’t even mentioned (the Holocaust).
I came away, though, feeling much more confident in my knowledge of the strategy and logistics of D-Day. Given that D-Day was the turning point of the most terrible, defining war in world history, that’s well worth an hour of your day.
*I asked Sarah Imholte, in the Science Museum’s public relations department, why that is. Is it that 3D technology doesn’t work well on a domed screen? (The dome screen is convertible, rotating back to reveal a conventional IMAX screen—the only such convertible theater in the country.)
“You’re right,” Imholte replied, “the 3D effects don’t work well on a domed screen. There are 3D versions of many of the films we show in our theater, but Mike Day, our VP of Museum Enterprises and the executive producer of all the Science Museum’s giant screen films, believes very strongly in the signature immersive experience that the giant dome screen provides in 2D. So we stick with that.”