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Case Number 27394: Small Claims Court

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The First World War: The Complete Series

E1 Entertainment // 2003 // 500 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Jason Panella // May 29th, 2014

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All Rise...

Judge Jason Panella honors all those lost in prank wars.

The Charge

"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 Case

The First World War: Complete Series features 10 episodes, each running 50 minutes:

• "To Arms"
An examination of the string of events that eventually led to the "Great War." What started as a small clash in the Balkans soon spreads across the globe, ushering in (at the time) unprecedented devastation.

• "Under the Eagle"
During the first few months of the war, battles on the Western Front are nothing like the popular images of trench-filled moonscape suggest. Battles are instead mobile and deadly, and—as French and Belgian citizens soon learn—often filled with brutality.

• "Global War"
The war spreads to the colonies of Germany and England. Lots of fascinating detail on Germany's naval conflicts outside of Europe, as well as the extensive campaign in Africa.

• "Jihad"
Germany recruits the Ottoman Empire to their side; the Turks see this as a chance to unify the Arab world under their banner.

• "Shackled to a Corpse"
Many of the countries that remain neutral get squished by the Allies and Central Powers, especially the Eastern European nations.

• "Breaking the Deadlock"
The ruined, trench-filled Western Front is hellish, especially with the introduction of chemical warfare and tanks. But soldiers on the front also display a surprising "live and let live" attitude toward the enemy.

• "Blockade"
While the Germans have high hopes for a relentless U-boat campaign, the British form a blockade to sap Germany's economy dry.

• "Revolution"
Mutiny and revolt in Ireland, Ottoman Turkey, and Russia prove to have a substantial effect on the war.

• "Germany's Last Gamble"
Worried about America's imminent entrance into the war, Germany launches a massive offensive before the Allies are reinforced. But this fails dramatically, and the situation is made worse for the Central Powers by the abysmal morale back home.

• "War Without End"
The war ends as abruptly as it began, and the aftermath has an impact on the future in ways no one at the time realized.

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.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 91

Perp Profile

Studio: E1 Entertainment
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• English (SDH)
Running Time: 500 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Documentary
• Foreign
• Historical
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• None


• IMDb

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