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Great for footage; leaves some questions
on February 17, 2014
As noted by other reviewers, this documentary was aired within the CBS prime time line up during the 1964-65 television season. Each episode is about 20-25 minutes long. It is perhaps because of this format (and intended audience) that the series tends to be heavy on visuals, but lacks in-depth analysis of the events themselves.
I would highly recommend for anyone who is interested in WWI footage; it continued to surprise me throughout that so much film survived from the battles that began in 1914. The footage prior to the US involvement was the most startling, possibly due to the censorship of all media that US demanded to maintain public support once we joined. Still, the images are remarkably well preserved (albeit often "jerky", due to the infancy of the motion picture technology, but that is to be expected.) One really wonders about the photojournalists embedded with the troops; their vantage point is literally in the trenches.
CBS must have decided that a picture is truly worth a thousand words, because there are no eyewitness accounts or historical analysis, save for a few quotes read by the narrator and a final episode that touches on, at a high level, the seeds planted for WWII. The narration, completely by Robert Ryan, is a little dated (most noticeable in the descriptions of women and Bolsheviks), but is solid. As common with mid-century documentaries, it takes on a "news reel" feel, although the writers obviously made decent attempts at objectivity. What was distracting, at least in my opinion, was the volume of the music throughout each episode. Very early on, one realizes why the only credits are given to Ryan and Morton Gould. Gould wrote the repetitive score, and the CBS Orchestra is prominently heard throughout, using crashing crescendos to denote drama and light-hearted woodwinds when the action on screen is not so grave. Completely unnecessary and annoying at times.
Having studied WWII since childhood, my goal in purchasing this series was to get a better understanding of the antecedents of the Great War, and I believe it has definitely helped, although not in a vacuum. Because it is from a US perspective, it does spend some time on the Doughboys, even though the US involvement was slight, compared to the European experience. The events surrounding the Habsburg and Ottoman empires are almost footnotes, which was unfortunate and begat a lot of questions while viewing this. I marathoned this series with a friend, and I was in charge of the DVD player pause button, while he researched the topic at hand on the internet. This pattern repeated itself 3-4 times per episode, in an attempt to get some context on what was just presented. This method worked, although not the most enjoyable scenario (having to often rely on Wikipedia and posted academic papers as Cliff's Notes.)
Overall, definitely worth the price on Amazon, just don't expect to be an expert by the final episode.