Is it ironic or fitting that director Peter Jackson’s brilliant use of technology should help make such an arresting treatment of a war in which technology — tanks, machine guns, mustard gas, etc. — wrought heretofore undreamt-of horror upon humanity? Either way, it’s astonishing that a film which must resort to illustrations to depict its actual battle sequences should prove to be such an immediate, immersive, and affecting account of soldierly life during the Great War, thanks to Jackson’s addition of color and depth to archival footage and photos of what went on before and after the carnage. (Think home movies if your home was a rat-infested trench with shells bursting overhead and mines exploding underfoot.) Thanks also to the careful and continual use of bits from old interviews with old veterans to narrate the proceedings, from hearing the call to arms and rushing to sign up to getting outfitted, trained, fed, shipped, sent to the front, sent over the top, and sent home. We don’t learn a single name or follow any one soldier, but the film still manages an intense intimacy between the viewer and viewed. An achievement, an experience, and a remarkable tribute. See it on the big screen, and in 3D if at all possible. (2018) — Matthew Lickona
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