Brilliant documentary on the everyday life of a British soldier in the first World War. Peter Jackson spent four years putting together raw footage, colorizing and improving frame rates, splicing and matching it with actual audio from veterans (all from the Imperial War Museum in London), and presenting it just like that. With no narrative or agenda to push.
Peter Jackson is no historian and historians will not like this movie as it takes a bit of creative license (matching up footage of soldiers’ faces with those of mutilated corpses to try and get you to feel the battle sequences (since there was no raw footage of battles in WWI)). This ends up working well to evoke emotion and understand the danger, but historians will hate that.
Instead he’s simply trying to get the viewer to get a sense of what life was like for a soldier of the first World War. It would be not much different from that of a Canadian, American, Australian or Kiwi solider either (although apparently the Canadians gambled a lot more in their spare time).
The casualty and mortality rate of these soldiers was insanely high in this war. A million British soldiers lost their lives between 1914 and 1918. Knowing this makes some scenes extremely heavy. For instance, there is footage of a large amount of British troops in a sunken road all gathering before an assault over the ridge. Almost everyone there had lost their lives in the 30 minutes after that footage was filmed.
Bringing much needed levity throughout the movie was the fact that this was the first exposure almost all of these men have had to being filmed. So in almost every shot, you have half of the people looking at the camera, giggling, while the other half try to stand perfectly still since they think it’s a photograph (where you had to be motionless for 10 seconds back in the day). Every shot has this. It’s really special and unique.
I HIGHLY recommend staying until the end of the credits as there is a 30 minute documentary on the making of this film and for me, this was almost better than the movie itself. Peter Jackson has a huge amount of passion for this project and you feel it in his explanations. He expresses pain and regret at not being able to cover everything he wanted but decided that this was the best way to tell the story of these amazing soldiers, many of whom were aged 15-19 at the time.
The colorized and improved footage doesn’t start until the soldiers hit mainland Europe so try to get through the first part, which is VERY sleepy and slow. After that it really is a work of genius and a good way to honour the sacrifice of these brave men.
Heart rating: 5 stars (absolutely)
Brain rating: 4.5 stars