I had mixed feelings about replacing several key characters from the original going into this series. The only replacement I truly regret is Byron's character, which would have been better left to Jan-Michael Vincent if that had been possible. Jane Seymour brought much more depth to Natalie Jastrow, although she was quite serious from the start and didn't have any of the freewheeling lightheartedness that made WOW fun (I'm glad Ali MacGraw had that role in WOW). I can't help but think of how chilling it would have been to see Ali MacGraw's Natalie descend from her relatively happy life to the hell that lay ahead. Aaron Jastrow's character gained much depth via John Gielgud.
Although this also has the (sometimes distracting and overly long) romantic subplots of the original, the most consuming story here is that of Natalie and Aaron's attempts to escape persecution from the Nazis and their eventual capture. With so many hours of film to work with, the director was able to take his time to slowly build the paranoia and tension until it reaches fever pitch with great effect. Every time Natalie looked over her shoulder, her fear intensified (with good reason). The Eichmann character was done very well and added much menace to his scenes.
The camp execution scenes are given real impact by pulling no punches whatsoever on realism. The shock of the victims young and old forced to disrobe and march to their deaths is absolutely heartbreaking...they only knew at the last minute what lay ahead for them. I still cannot stand to watch the scene that follows Himmler's visit to one of the camps to witness the extermination process where even Himmler is shown to have been greatly disturbed (historically accurate). I've since skipped that scene in subsequent viewings, it's too disturbing to relive. During WWII, many of the even the most hardened SS guards were severely disturbed by their own grim duty as well to the point of cracking. Also horrifying was the tension when Natalie and Aaron arrived at their final destination and the Nazi guard decides their fate with a single flick of the wrist based on looking at them to judge if they were fit for work or not. It's incredible that all of these scenes were filmed at the actual locations including the death camp scene where Aaron draws his last breath. Natalie's dreary train ride to the camp was also draining to watch and such a contrast to the beautiful scenes in Italy and Switzerland before they were captured. The loss of freedom really sunk in during the last few discs of the series to the point of feeling like you were a prisoner there with them.
The massive scope of this series and it predecessor helps you understand what an important and complex story this is, and this is only the European theater. The only real weaknesses to me were of casting for Hitler and Himmler, neither of which captured the evil of the real men, which could have brought even more weight to this towering achievement. I've never seen anyone fully capture Hitler other than Bruno Ganz in the excellent Downfall (2004) and I've never seen anyone capture Himmler or Heydrich (who was not included in this film but should have been as he was the true mastermind of The Holocaust and probably the most heartless and intimidating Nazi of them all). But overall, this series is the best of its kind and I doubt it will ever be matched. As unpleasant as some scenes in WAR are, this should really be watched by everyone, because it did happen, and we must never forget that. After watching these two series, your perspective will be changed forever regarding what a movie can be. Although WAR alone was more than 25 hrs long, it never felt like a chore to me to watch the entire series (I finished within 1 week). It makes most other movies seem lightweight by comparison.
Again, I don't recommend this for children. I didn't even show this to my parents (who loved Winds of War) because I know it would have traumatized my mother. It's not for everyone. I consider myself hardened to horror movies, but reality is much more terrifying than make believe any day.