Telling that story is nearly as complicated. But French director and documentarian Pascal Vuong manages to explain the operation clearly in but 40 minutes of an IMAX documentary. One of his greatest allies in the telling is through the use of a map of Europe that covers the giant dome of the IMAX theater, but he also uses the aerial shots of Normandy now to contrast with photographs from 1944 to show who was doing what to whom. The sure, dependable, bass voice of Tom Brokaw, narrates the film with a newsman's possession. "For many," Brokaw intones, "this was the end...; for many more, it was the beginning. Everything changed here."
In a prologue, a 92-year-old veteran, Robert H. Bareford, who was a radar crew chief, remembers the landing, his face contorted at his memories of all the men who drowned before gaining a purchase on the beach, let alone on victory. In some ways, his recitation is as chilling as anything that follows, which is more mechanistic.
The Allies, led by Dwight D. Eisenhower, started planning the operation late in 1943 for a summer's day in 1944 as a way to push back the forces of evil, led by Hitler via Rommel, in the European theater. As Brokaw tells the story, the screen alights with images of a helmet here, a meeting of joint chiefs of staff there, a typewriter spells out an assignment in a letter over Eisenhower's signature.
Vuong exploits all manner of contemporary devices -- films, letters home, officials' letters from files, mug shots and publicity shots and newsreels. He juxtaposes those with modern methods of telling this story, from the IMAX cameras photographing the mustard fields yellow against the greened bluffs of Normandie today, to bits of animation -- pen and ink drawings that become graphic movements through CGI, and live-action images. The big map is the best device, however, for telling the beaches apart. Flags planted on points tell which country was in charge of which beach. Vuong never dwells on any one filmic technique over another, but divides methods evenly over the 40 minutes. Nothing cute, just history acutely told. "D-Day: Normandy 1944" boosts history through film.