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DVD Review

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World War I in Colour


Narrated by: Kenneth Branagh
Distributor: FremantleMedia International
RRP: £9.99
5 030697 007094
Certificate: E
Release Date: 01 September 2014

Up until now, World War I had always been seen as a war that happened in black & white, but that was not the reality. It was the first war to see the development of the fighter plane, the introduction of poison gas, the inventions of the tank and the flame thrower and the wide use of machine guns and heavy artillery, which caused such mass destruction. Using rare archive footage from sources around the world, including Britain’s own Imperial War Museum, this six part series has been painstakingly colourised using the latest computer aided technology to bring World War I to colour, as experienced by those who fought in and endured it...

World War I in Colour was originally broadcast in the UK in 2003. It was first given a DVD release, in America, in 2005 and the UK's The Daily Telegraph released it across 7 free DVDs (the six episodes and a seventh disc for the Tactics & Strategy extra), in 2007.

To mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the "war to end all wars" Fremantle Media has repackaged the series as a 2-disc DVD collection which includes all six episodes and a number of extras.

The episodes include: Catastrophe (which charts the build up); Slaughter in the Trenches; Blood in the Air (a look at air combat); Killers of the Sea (examines the sea battles); Mayhem on the Eastern Front; and Victory and Despair (which looks at the end of the war, the problems this brought with it and the build up to WWII).

Extras include Making the Series (15 min interviews with those responsible for bringing the series to life); and Tactics and Strategy (51 min, 15 sec feature narrated by Robert Powell, which goes into detail with regards some of the battles. Of interest is the first tank vs tank battle and the American airman who became a hero of the war before vanishing after a successful flight to take down several German balloons - his fate only being discovered after the war). We also get the text based Biographies of 20 key figures; Timeline of Events; and General Facts (which breaks down how many men from each country were killed/injured/taken prisoner/missing in action)

It's probably not a surprise that more often than not the "colour" footage is barely a step up from sepia, but there are a few scenes that look quite impressive considering their age. There's also a bit of a problem with footage being repeated (sometimes two or even three times in the same episode) and the interviews with the (then) surviving veterans; the same clips being used again in future episodes.

The series includes interviews with survivors of the conflict, including Arthur Barraclough (1898–2004), Harry Patch (1898–2009) (Britain's last survivor of the trenches), Arthur Halestrap (1898–2004), Hubert Williams (1895–2002) (the last pilot of the Royal Flying Corps of WWI), and Bill Stone (1900–2009) (the last Royal Navy veteran of WWI).

The music is also worthy of note, sounding like a John Williams score, or one of the Medal of Honor video game soundtracks by Michael Giacchino.

This is an essential documentary for those who have an interest in history. It's well produced and while not the crisp, clear imagery that today's audiences are used to, the historical footage is made all the more shocking by its transfer to colour.


Darren Rea

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