Friday, August 15

The Great Martian War: 1913-1917 (2013)

Directed by Mike Slee

As you may have gathered, I’m sometimes ‘way behind the times in watching things, even things I want to see, sometimes things I have queued up to see – such as this, which has been sitting on my TiVo for at least a couple of weeks since it aired on BBC-America.  Turns out, however, I’m even further behind than that, seeing as I discover now that this movie actually debuted last year on The History Channel.  Actually, the fact that I missed it there is not that surprising to me.  Even though – more probably, because – I’m a historian, I actually watch very little of The History Channel.  Yes, there’s some good stuff on there.  There’s also some very bad stuff.  (That’s besides the ridiculous stuff like Ancient Aliens and the uh-why-is-this-on-The-History-Channel? stuff like Ice Road Truckers.)  And of course, it seems that the closer the subject matter is to something of scholarly historical interest to me, the more superficial and downright mangled their treatment of it is.  So I just don’t watch very much.  And hence The Great Martian War flew entirely beneath my radar last year.

I guess the fact that this came out last year does explain what struck me as an odd offset by one year from the dates of the real “Great War,” World War I, which the movie invokes in both name and description, the latter of which I would paraphrase as “an allegorical reimagination of World War I as The War of the Worlds told in ‘mockumentary’ form a century later.”  The offset also works since the depicted events posit a departure point into an alternative time-line sometime prior to the actual outbreak of World War I, which makes sense.  Waiting for perfect coincidence would, if you think about it, have just muddied the waters story-telling-wise.  Better to pick a point about a year previous, when tensions had already risen to near-breaking, but before the trigger event that led directly to the historical events unfolding.  It’s a little thing that I ended up appreciating from a historian’s standpoint.

The long and short of my reaction is, I really liked the show.  I was not aware until I started trying to dig up some information on it, that it did stir up at least a little bit of controversy as being “disrespectful” of the soldiers in World War I.  It uses archival footage from the war showing actual soldiers in battle, with special effects digitally added.  I disagree with those objections, however.  I thought the story was brilliantly told, and the use of the footage served a definite purpose.  Those who see that purpose as exploiting those brave soldiers’ sacrifices for “mere entertainment” are so off the mark – they miss the point altogether, which is rather to examine elements of the Great War in an allegorical fashion, often pointing out the absurdity of certain decisions, policies, and so forth throughout the course of the war.  And praising the endurance of those soldiers, who lived through hell.  I thought it was actually quite respectful.  It’s not satire, which it could very easily have ended up being.  It’s told in an utterly straightforward fashion.*

Which is not to say it’s perfect.  The biggest thing I kept wondering was, “Where are the Russians?”  It was presented as totally a single-front war in Western Europe.  How much would it have taken to simply acknowledge, if only in dialogue, the momentous events that were happening on the eastern front and in the Russian Empire – implicitly much the same as in the west, with perhaps a quicker collapse into Bolshevism than happened in reality due to the horrific effects of the war on a society teetering on the brink.  This seems like a huge oversight on the producers’ part.

But what was presented I found to be quite good and thought-provoking, with some interesting implications that were left unspoken at the end.  That’s perhaps for the best, as the implicit attribution of the continuing and arguably even worse horrors of the 20th century to some kind of sentient organic metal parasite inciting aggression (at least that’s what I inferred) would have, to my mind, constituted some kind of implicit absolution for the human race for the history of the past century.  Our fallen nature is plenty enough explanation for the evils we continue to perpetrate on ourselves and the world.

One thing I am also disappointed about is that this movie apparently is not available on video.  I would probably purchase it, and if I taught later European history I might even use it in class as a sort of counter-factual exercise.  Just about everything else any of those “reality TV” channels do is immediately released, usually advertised during the initial showing, but this doesn’t show up as even existing, at least so far as I can find.  What gives?

Cheers!, and Thanks for reading!

* Here is an interview with the producers [LINK] ... (Ignore the typical liberal backhanded swipe at Ronald Reagan.  It always torques me when Reagan is portrayed as a moron.  He certainly was wiser, and I think smarter by far, than the current resident in the White House, supposedly the "Smartest Man Ever To Be President.")

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