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Capital Entertainment presents
World War I in Color (2004)

"World War I has always been seen as a war in black and white."
- narration

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: August 12, 2005

Stars: Sir Kenneth Branagh
Director: Jonathan Martin

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (war violence)
Run Time: 04h:42m:00s
Release Date: May 10, 2005
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

World War I in Color (or Colour, if you prefer the original British title) was a recent six-part television series whose purpose was to bring our collective perceptions of the so-called black-and-white war into the modern age. I'll admit there is always something long ago and faraway about looking at film footage from the early 1900s, and apparently there is perceived to be an underlying sense that maybe the whole world was in black-and-white back then. I know it wasn't, but maybe it seemed that way, because that was the only way most of us ever see it.

The colorization of old movies is not one of my favorite technological advances, with the idea that black-and-white is somehow bad or wrong serving to reinforce some unspoken demand that lack of color is somehow bad. Producers Philip Nugus and Jonathan Martin have opted to take a moment in history and imbue it with computer-induced color, and while that may end up being a fruitlessly noble and painstaking gesture, I'm guessing their hopes are that the so-called younger generation will take more of an active interest in the subject, or at least not turn away because Kaiser Wilhelm's flesh is an unsightly gray as opposed to a healthy light pink.

As a learning and educational tool, this two-disc set certainly has some merit, and possibly as a curiosity for older viewers, but the content and approach is largely the same as other history programs, despite the inclusion of some previously unseen footage of the time. There are recollections, interviews, voiceover narration from Sir Kenneth Branagh and, of course, over six hours of colorized footage of tanks, trenches, the Lusitania and countless dead soldiers. If one were to strip away the nearly gimmicky color treatment, this would still be a solid historical reference of the first war to end all wars.

But it is in color—that's the hook—and that sometimes made it difficult for me to actually pay attention to what Branagh was saying, because I was far too fixated on whether I felt the tints in the flags were really accurate (like I would know) or simply imagining how complicated or time-consuming the process actually must have been. It is a shame that the detailed, well researched work of Nugus and Martin—and what was no doubt a large team of historians and technicians—is almost completely overshadowed by the novelty that was designed to actually make it unique.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The image transfer is roughly 1.85:1, presented in anamorphic widescreen with just a trace of thin black bars along the short side. Since the series utilizes such a diverse source of video material, the quality understandably varies. The recent interview footage looks the most consistent, with warm, even coloring. As expected, the war footage is sometimes grainy or nicked, even after having undergone the restoration for the colorization process.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: Narration is presented in standard issue 2.0 stereo, and voiceovers come across as clear without being overdone. The audio quality is on par with a typical television documentary, though one of the bonus features has horrible hiss.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu
Scene Access with 36 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
2 Documentaries
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
2 Discs
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Disc 1 carries Making the Series (15m:00s), in which producer Philip Nugus and producer/director Jonathan Martin discuss the origins of the series, and all of the laborious work that went into properly colorizing all of the archival footage. There are also text bios of 20 key figures in World War I history, such as Churchill, Tsar Nicholas II, and Kaiser Wilhelm II. Also included are a handy onscreen Timeline of Events and a listing of General Facts, which are essentially casualty figures.

Disc 2 contains Tactics and Strategy (51m:00s) a six-part look at the war, narrated by Robert Powell, using a combination of archival footage and computer simulation.

Each individual episode is divided into 6 chapters, with optional subtitles in English or French.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

I never felt the driving need to see WWI footage in color, because the whole colorization process just seems wrong somehow. This ambitious British project attempts to shorten the gap, making the material more accessible to viewers who are turned off by black and white, though whether this will do the trick remains to be seen. From a curiosity standpoint, the colorization, which is very well done, is not as jarring as it was with The Three Stooges discs.

Content-wise, this two-disc set is educational and informative, and worth a look regardless of whether it has been colorized or not.


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