Inecom // 2006 // 112 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Dennis Prince (Retired) // January 25th, 2007
When did you last stop to consider the true significance of Veterans Day?
"What did you do in the War, Great Grandpa?"
Sadly, the person to whom that question might be posed is no longer with us. The brave men who fought in World War 1 were among this nation's greatest heroes, bar none. Granted, we've seen many wars since then, including the current conflict, and there's little merit in attempting to insinuate more recent soldiers have been any less skilled, equipped, or dedicated to their mission, but in comparison to reality -- the unimaginable horrors -- that defined WWI, you simply must hold veterans of that war in somewhat higher regard.
I'm not one who studies wars or other elements of early American history (save for film, of course) and after viewing this excellent documentary, World War 1: American Legacy, I have to admit that I take far too much for granted as I live my day to day life. Documentarian Mark Bussler delivers a gripping look at the realities of the Great War, the first of the modern wars and long referred to as "the war to end all wars." Through startling original photographs and numerous written accounts from within the actual trenches, we quickly learn how this war was, for all practical purposes, beyond the capacity of normal men. Indeed, we learn here how it was extraordinary men who survived the staggering hardships and the brutal warfare that was unleashed on European soils. And, as we sit in our comfortable homes and enjoy all manner of indulgences, we hardly take note of what these brave soldiers did back in 1917 to enable all that we gorge ourselves on today.
Thorough the steady narration of David Carradine, World War 1: American Legacy begins with a look back at the cause of this European conflict and how German aggressions against American interests -- torpedoing of the cruise ship Lusitania and appeals for Mexico's involvement in exchange for a German led reclamation of Texas and New Mexico -- gave then-President Woodrow Wilson no course but to declare war on Germany. Through original still photographs, artwork, and music of the period, we're given a look at the sights and sounds of the war as America entered the conflict. But this isn't just an overview of the war itself but, rather, an in-depth analysis of many notable persons who served in the war and had a hand in shaping American culture, style, and sensibilities. Therefore, we're given an opportunity to learn more about the writings of E.E. Cummings, Ernest Hemingway, and Alan Seeger and how the war sparked their need to disclose how the war impacted them and those who served alongside. Then we get acquainted with the unrivaled abilities of New York City's "Harlem's Hellfighters," the most accomplished division in the battle that was initially scorned because of it's all-black troops but was ultimately given a full hero's welcome upon its return. The documentary also goes on to credit the work of the Red Cross nurses and the invaluable "Hello Girls" who would man the battalion switchboards and, more subtly, remind the "boys" of their "gals" who were counting on them to return back home. There's even an appropriate salute to the contributions of various animals including horses, mules, dogs, and carrier pigeons, each offering vital service to the overall effort. It's a well-rounded documentary that, thanks to writer Brian Connelly's commitment to the tone, never preaches or gives in to any measure of political or cultural bias. This is one of the best fact-driven documentaries I've seen in a very long time.
What makes this particular documentary even more compelling is the method in which it's delivered, using high-definition technology to provide crisp details in every image and artifact it presents. Although this is a standard definition disc (not an actual HD DVD formatted offering), the high-def filming still manages to deliver an image quality that's better than most SD releases you'll see today. More affecting is the excellent DTS 5.1 digital surround track that is precisely mixed to put you dead center in the soundstage. You'll enjoy a perfectly balanced mix that maintains clarity of Carradine's narration in the front center channel and then works to deliver ambient effects -- some subtle, some staggering -- from all surround channels. Amidst this is the excellent new score from composer Gene Ort that perfectly permeates your viewing area to help transport into the documentary's realm. There are no extras here save for a collection of short trailers from other works by Bussler.
Even if you don't consider yourself a history "buff" or doubt you'd be much interested in this particular piece, I would counter by saying I believed the same of myself as I embarked on a viewing. This is a highly satisfying excursion into our nation's formative history that is more than deserving of your time.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* DTS 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 112 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Site