8/10 War documentaries are a dime a dozen (especially when it comes to WWII, Vietnam and today’s current wars) but WWI is one of the least understood and documented wars in terms of film footage, since film wasn’t very old when WWI broke out. Director Peter Jackson was faced with the challenge of taking 100-year-old film that had aged poorly and using today’s technology to restore the film, improve upon it and create what we see in this film. What we do see is extremely impressive from a technological standpoint. Images restored/enhanced, zoom ins added, colorization, sound effects and voiceovers, etc. all add up for an amazing visual feast. With over 100 hours of footage to draw from and 600 hours of audio at his disposal, Jackson wisely lets the veterans narrate the film based off of their experiences and lets the images support said experiences. Since so many veterans give voice to the film, we have a wide variety of opinions and memories to hear. Seeing the level of respect that soldiers had for their enemies was an unexpected but welcome surprise. What I found fascinating is how some military elements still haven’t changed 100 years later, around the time that I was in the military. I appreciated that the film doesn’t try to cover every aspect of the war but instead picks a few key elements to focus on. I also found noteworthy the fact that Jackson doesn’t shy away from the more grisly and tragic elements of war ranging to anything from decaying trench foot to rats eating dead bodies to using the bathroom with no toilet paper. As gross or foul or tragic as all that can be, that was part of everyday life and the film makers don’t shy away from it. The 3D screening that I saw added yet another layer to the already impressive footage. The traditional end credits song was also extremely catchy and worth seeking out. There was also a 30-minute documentary after the closing credits with Peter Jackson explaining the great lengths they went to to make this documentary authentic and some of the behind the scene processes. This part was as interesting, if not more so than the actual film itself. In some ways it overshadows the footage itself which isn’t great but that just shows the strength of the mini documentary at the end. Overall, this is a fascinating peak into a part of history that a lot of people don’t know about (especially since all the WWI vets have passed away) and shows that in addition to mainstream, traditional films, maybe Peter Jackson should pull a Martin Scorsese and start making occasional documentaries since he certainly has an eye for them.
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