This movie is definitely a mixed bag of good and less good things, but the good very definitely outweigh the less good.
To begin with, for me the best part of the picture was very definitely Jackson's explanation of how and why he made this documentary. It comes at the end, after all the credits - and, at least when I saw it today, after almost everyone has left the theater - and that is a GREAT shame. Jackson is an intelligent and very knowledgeable, as well as a very modest and engaging, man, at least in his 20+ minute explanation, and I found it and him thoroughly fascinating. He explained, somewhat like Ken Burns, that his goal was to present the war as it was experienced by the common (British) soldier, rather than to explain battle strategies, treaties, etc. - i.e., the sort of thing we got in war documentaries before Ken Burns. That his picture does very well. It also turns out that Jackson has been collecting things related to World War I for years, and knows a lot about it. I suspect that that is why the British War Museum asked him to create something out of their World War I film footage. He was far from a random choice.
Jackson also explains/shows how he and his crew were able to make some of the 100 hours of World War I film footage come back to life. That, too, was very interesting, because he and his crew took the time to do a very accurate job of it, including the colorization. The results definitely benefit from their meticulous efforts. (I would have appreciated this even more in the movie if we had been able to see Jackson's talk first, but I suppose his producers felt that the audience wouldn't want to sit through a lecture before a picture. I think that was selling audiences short. After all, only history buffs are going to see this movie.)
Also fascinating was the work done to remain faithful to English regional accents when certain parts of originally silent film footage was dubbed. I suspect that will be lost on most American viewers who can't distinguish one regional British accent from another - it was certainly lost on me.
In fact, for me, the accents were sometimes a real problem when they ran over a lot of background noise. This was especially the case for me during the long - for me too long - battle sequence near the end of the movie. Jackson used snippets from 600 hours of audio interviews recorded by the BBC after World War I to try to convey what it was like to be in the trenches during the battle of the Somme. It was a nice idea in principle, but I could not make out some of what was said, because the accents were too think and the background sound too loud.
I also didn't care for the 3-D effect, and would recommend seeing this movie in 2-D.
But I would very definitely recommend seeing this movie. Not so much to World War I buffs, who probably won't learn a lot new here. But rather to those interested in documentaries about eras before our own, especially since the invention of the camera, to see one approach, and one set of techniques, that can be used to make them come alive.
I went back today to see the movie again, this time in 2-D. A few added comments.
First, as I suspect, this movie is much better in 2-D than 3-D. 3-D can be fun when a movie is originally shot that way, but turning what was originally shot in 2-D into 3-D looks fake, and that is true in this case as well.
Second, I appreciated the work done on restoring the 100-year-old silent films MUCH more this time, because yesterday I saw Peter Jackson's 30-minute explanation of what they did to bring it about. It reinforces what I wrote above: his remarks should be watched BEFORE the movie, not after it.
Third, even on a second viewing-hearing, the snippets from the radio interviews become very difficult to hear during the battle scenes, in part because my American ear is not accustomed to some of the English accents, in part because the battle sounds are too loud - or the interview snippets not loud enough.
Fourth, I still think the battle runs on too long for what there is to show and say. Jackson has to use the same footage more than once, and that becomes very obvious.
But again, I strongly recommend this movie to those who want to see what can be done to make old video footage more interesting to the general public.
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