If you can’t guess what this film is about, all you need to do is google “The Great War” and you immediately know this is about World War I. There have been a lot of films and stories about Vietnam and World War II but not nearly as many about this war. It’s probably no coincidence that this finds its way to DVD right when 1917 has come out. It’s quite common for studios to pump out films with similar topics and themes at the same time. But the two topics it deals with that set it apart from the others is that the highly decorated and fierce fighting regiment of Buffalo Soldiers, which was comprised of African-Americans, is prominently featured in the film, as well as the real effects of war on mental health.
It's the last few days of the war and everyone knows that the two sides are going to sign a peace treaty at any moment. While most people think that this would mean that the fighting would begin to taper off, the exact opposite is true. The fighting has become more intense because the French and their allies will demand to keep whatever territory they have managed to conquer before the treaty takes place and the Germans will permanently lose whatever land their enemies occupy. Because of this, the Americans are pushing forward as hard as they can while the Germans have dug in and fighting to keep every inch of land that they can.
As the Americans look to hold their captured areas, they realize that the regiment of Buffalo Soldiers is missing. They are presumed to be several miles behind enemy lines and it’s unknown whether they are dead or alive. If they are still alive, they will soon be dead as the Germans plan to bring down all the firepower they can muster because they will not give up their territory. A decision must be made quickly. Not only are their lives at stake, but what rescuing them could do for racial tensions back home.
Once the decision has been made, it is up to Captain William Rivers (Bates Wilder) to lead a small rescue mission consisting of a few of his exhausted but battle-tested men along with a guide Private John Cain (Hiram A. Murray), the only Buffalo Soldier to make it back to base. At least now they know the trajectory they need to take, but there’s a large number of enemy combatants they need to get by in order to find them. While that in itself is a large enough hurdle to overcome, they also have deal with their own internal race issues and a captain who has shellshock and freezes up at the most inopportune moments.
The DVD is presented in 16x9 with a (2.39:1) ratio and an English 5.1 Dolby audio soundtrack. The DVD has nice color and contrast, but there was nothing out of the ordinary. However, the audio was of a surprisingly good quality. The sound was immersive and made you feel like you were right in the middle of the fighting. Explosions, gun fire, and screams of fallen soldiers could be heard coming from all over my house with sometimes sounding like they were coming from outside. There are no Special Features on this DVD release.
The film comes across as a made-for-television event as opposed to an actual feature-length film you might see in the theatre. The cinematography is done well but the battles and the movie blood used don’t come up to today’s standards. If you take it in that spirit, you’ll be able to appreciate it on a level which it was not intended. If not, you will find a lot of flaws within and it won’t be for you. With the exceptions of the Buffalo Soldiers and a leader with shellshock, it’s very reminiscent of Saving Private Ryan, which is a very difficult film to be compared against. The two biggest celebrity names involved, Ron Perlman as General Pershing and Billy Zane as Colonel Jack Morrison, have no more than five minutes of screen time total and are at the command center only showing up to decide and explain the reasonings for the rescue mission.
The Great War is not terrible, but it’s nothing that special and certainly not unique enough to capture an audience. If you happened to find this on television one night with nothing else on, it would be okay to watch, but it’s not something you’re going to be searching for.