First Hit: This is one of the most amazing film restorations ever completed and the story it tells is astounding.
Two things that happened that sandwiched the actual film: 1) Prior to the film we learn that there is no war memorial in the US capital for WWI veterans, who effectively assisted in ending this war with their European counterparts. 2) At the end of this special presentation Director Peter Jackson shared a thirty-minute film about how they rejuvenated and revitalized these historic 100-year-old film prints.
From the opening moments you know this is going to be amazing. There is a small square scene of men marching. The pacing of movement which is usually all over the place in old films isn’t present. The pacing feels real. It is in 3D, but then the frame starts getting larger exposing, ever so slightly, more of the vision. You hear the marching and murmuring. Then voice overs of men who served in this war.
The film voice overs are men from WWI and as the film flashes back to England, we see where these men came from. They talk about how important it was to fight this war. They talk about how young many of the men were. In fact, one soldier was only thirteen, when you had to be nineteen to be eligible to join the army. All the while the images on the screen are of these young men learning and being trained on how to fight.
Slowly the film turns in to color and with the amazing technology of today, we are watching colorized 3D versions of original film shot over 100 years ago. It is utterly sublime and awe inspiring work.
We travel to Europe where we are in the trenches readying to make a final assault on the Germans. We see the first tanks used in wars. But as the film explained, this war was about artillery and how it shaped the battles from in the trenches.
As section chief in an artillery unit overseeing a 105” howitzer in Vietnam, I was entranced with the large guns used in WWI. Not much changed in all those years. The gunner, assistant gunner, primary loader, and how the breach blocks were opened and closed manually. I was transported back to my own experience.
The ending credits are accompanied by a song sung by British soldiers at that time. Mademoiselle from Armentieres is a song which bawdy lyrics were made up on the spot and as a marching song it is fantastic. Using British voices from a group of men in the English consulate their rendition brings joy and a smile as this film ends.
Jackson had many challenges. First to select the story he wanted to tell. There is a ton of footage, but he thought sticking to the British foot soldier would bring home his own heritage. Then finding ways to bring the films pacing to normal speed was challenging. Cameras back then were hand cranked so the film was created at lots of various speeds. Then the question to colorize it was asked. To Jackson credit, he simply asked, if the camera men of 100 years ago had a choice; black and white or color, which would they choose. I agree with Jackson’s choice to colorize it. In this film he worked hard to wonderfully and accurately use the right color. Even using his personal stock of WWI clothing and materials to judge the coloration process. In the film, he occasionally has one of the people in the film talking. Although, back then film did not have a soundtrack, Jackson hired lip readers who figured out what some of the soldiers were saying, then by hiring people from that region of England, had them say the lines. The amount of effort Jackson put into this film is phenomenal and shows up on the screen – perfect.
Overall: When a film moves me from sitting in a seat in a movie theater and takes me to another place, it has done its job. This film does this in spades.