REVIEW: Apocalypse – World War I (2014)

A Documentary TV Series

They always say that when a dad reaches 35 they have to choose one of two paths – become hyper obsessed with military history or become obsessed with smoking various meats. As you can see I have chosen the former, with my recent fascination with World War I hot off the heels of my Civil War focus from last year. I will eventually run out of things to talk about, but for right now buckle up because there’s more! I recently jumped on Curiosity Stream, which I don’t champion enough on here, and found a series of French documentaries called Apocalypse, and in this case, Apocalypse – World War I. There are a number of these on there, which will be interesting to work my way through in the next coming months.

“Colorized historical footage in ascending order of World War 1. Not only the relatively known Flanders and France battles, but also the generally unknown Italian-Austrian, German-Polish-Russian, Japanese-German, Ottoman Empire- Allied and African German Colonies, and other unknown or forgotten fronts and battles. Original French production retold in English for National Geographic channel as: World War 1: The Apocalypse”

While I am generally not a fan of film colorization when it comes to old TV and film, I am 100% onboard with it when it comes to historical footage. Critics of the practice seem to hate it no matter what, with esteemed film critic Roger Ebert being one of the most vocal before his death. He and others like him find the practice unethical regardless of historical accuracy. It is said they cite a lack of knowledge regarding the original artist’s intent and point out that colorization can be misleading. I will have to vehemently disagree with this when it comes to historical footage, as many can learn a LOT when it comes to historical events if they can see the footage in a state that is more “real” to them.

Some of the best footage, for me at least, were the theaters and participants in the war that are largely ignored in most things like this. Footage of the Armenian Genocide was especially shocking as I have never seen anything other than vague photographs and descriptions. The producers also used footage from japan, The Ottoman Empire, and Austria-Hungary that always seem to get overlooked. While the footage is not upscaled to 4K or anything, great care has been done to preserve and colorize it to such a degree that you really get a sense of familiarity with the people and places shown. Colorization of old footage is always astounding to me, because old black and white footage always exists in almost a fantasy world of “this is a long time ago and doesn’t affect me at all”, but having it in color immediately brings the footage into the real world. Seeing it in color allows one to relate to it in a personal way.

This series focuses a lot on the French side of the war which is understandable considering this was originally a French production. It also concentrates more on how bad and horrific the war was rather than being some kind of patriotic celebration of the very Nationalism that the film somewhat criticizes. The truth is that World War I was largely senseless and terrible, so highlighting that aspect of it can show that allowing trivial conflicts to escalate is largely a bad call, and should not be replicated. Anyone looking for that “hoo-rah Team America” stuff should look elsewhere.

Episodes:

  • 1 Fury (until August 1914): Origin of the conflict and the clash between empires.
  • 2 Fear (September 1914 – August 1915): Battle of the Marne and internationalization of the conflict.
  • 3 Hell (September 1915 – July 1916): appearance of bloody weapons never seen before; Battle of Verdun and Battle of the Somme.
  • 4 Rage (August 1916 – September 1917): there are already a huge number of deaths in combat. The United States enters the scene.
  • 5 Release (October 1917 – June 1919): Allied victory and world peace, but the scars do not seem to be definitively closed.

Each episode is about 45-50 minutes long with the entire series clocking in at just under five hours. Not everything is discussed, but watching this gives the viewer a pretty solid general overview of the war and perhaps a jumping on point for further research. I personally liked the effort the creators made to tie everything into World War II, showing Adolf Hitler’s role in the conflict as well as some of his collaborators. They even showed a lengthy clip of Paul von Hindenburg and some other veterans being honored by Hitler at a huge rally that may have been Potsdam Day, but I don’t recall if that was mentioned.

I really enjoyed this documentary series as a general overview and wholly recommend Curiosity Stream if you are a fan of documentaries. A lot of the material is on there are European productions that are either dubbed or subtitled, but the content is still pretty good. I may put up some more reviews, as I have seen a few that I really liked. Overall, this is one of the better World War I documentaries I have seen, and I am looking forward to continuing the series. As stated before, it’s a bit Franco-centric, but I’d honestly rather see that considering how much the war impacted France instead of a film that pretends America did more than it actually did at the end of the war. Definitely worth a watch!

For more WWI-related books and material, please click HERE

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