Judge Jason Panella honors all those lost in prank wars.
"The First World War began almost by accident. It ended just as strangely. In between, it was more destructive than any war had ever been."
The First World War: Complete Series features 10 episodes, each running 50 minutes:
• "To Arms"
• "Under the Eagle"
• "Global War"
• "Shackled to a Corpse"
• "Breaking the Deadlock"
• "Germany's Last Gamble"
• "War Without End"
The First World War is one of those rare documentaries that not only works for World War I experts, but also it also appeals to history novices and everyone in between. The series, which was based on historian Hew Strachan's book of the same name, was released on British Channel 4 for much fanfare in 2003. For good reason—it's an excellent, thorough exploration of the Great War that's also easily approachable for folks not familiar with this area of history.
The series, like Strachan's book, looks at the broader implications of the war. Between 1914 and 1918, warfare shifted from local skirmishes to widespread campaigns that spanned continents and oceans. Each episode focuses on a specific aspect of the war: the Ottoman Empire's role in the war (in "Jihad"), for instance, or the naval battles in the North Sea and their effect (in "Blockade"). The series then shows how this area tied into the war as a whole, which keeps things moving nicely. Sometimes the series doesn't tie together connected elements from different episodes as well as it could, but it's never a serious concern.
The plethora of archival footage and personal accounts is what makes the miniseries really work, though. Strachan spends a lot of time with the people involved in the war—the soldiers, the politicians, and the civilians. The human element really makes it work and keeps it from being dry, which is also aided by the excellent voice actors used to recount battles and events. The narrator—historian and producer Jonathan Lewis (Hell in the Pacific)—is also excellent, though once in a while he slips into a monotone. The only other problem is that Orlando Gough's score veers from lovely pieces (like the title theme) to distracting sections that sound like the MIDI score from a CompuServe demo reel.
Entertainment One's new release of The First World War: The Complete Series is a mixed bag. The new 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks great—archival footage looks remarkably clear, considering their age, and the contemporary shots are sharp and rich in natural color. (It's worth noting that original Image Entertainment's release of The First World War in 2004 was presented in 1.33:1 full frame.) The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track is also quite good—the post-production battle sound effects and soundtrack never detract from the narration, which is clear and easy to hear. This new release of The First World War comes without extras of any kind, unfortunate considering the 30-some page booklet that accompanied the Image version.
Before watching this miniseries, I only had a basic understanding of the Great War and its effect on the 20th Century. The First World War: The Complete Series was easy enough to get into, informative enough to give me a better understanding of the war, and exciting enough that I'm looking forward to learning more. Entertainment One's new release lacks any extra selling points, but the quality of the miniseries (in its original aspect ratio) more than makes up for it.
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