The Great Martian War 1913 – 1917 (2013)

The History Channel seems a strange place to find a science fiction film, even in Canada.

But that is where this unusual mocumentary debuted.  A British/Canadian co-production, it uses the familiar format we’ve seen in so many History Channel documentaries, mixing interviews with survivors and experts, visits to important locations and “archival” footage, with narration by Mark Strong to tie it all together.

As you would expect — with an alien menace arriving by a transport resembling a huge meteorite, and which is equipped with big tripods — the story borrows a lot from the classic H.G. Wells novel.  But it also brings in a lot of the real history of the war, often re-invented in surprising ways (with the German march through Belgium perhaps the most unexpected).

However, there’s even more going on here than in the original, and, in classic History Channel style, we learn of the shocking new discoveries about the war which one researcher claims to have uncovered by translating the alien language.

Of course, the real standouts here are the sequences involving the Martian war machines on the battlefield.  The footage is appropriately aged and damaged, with the CGI Martian machines seamlessly integrated.  The machines themselves have a lovely, ornately mechanical, almost Victorian look, complete with sudden jets of steam venting out of them now and then.

Ironically, while many people criticized them for misusing real footage of World War I, most of the film taken of World War I was in fact deliberately staged for the camera, either during or after the war.  The producers used only archive footage which they could prove was staged — and actually filmed much of the battlefield footage themselves.  And yet I could not tell you which scenes were all new.  They did an impressive job matching the original footage.  At times the “archival footage” is a bit repetitive, as many of these sequences are used over and over again — but then, that is fairly common in History Channel documentaries, when there simply isn’t enough footage available.

The final result is remarkably solid and convincing, with a strong story and deftly used effects — and enough human drama in the survivors’ stories to keep it interesting.  It is well worth a look, particularly for those who love H.G. Wells’ original novel.

(Plazma Design’s Demo Reel of the film’s marvelous “archival” footage)

(A free Android Game based on the documentary is available at Amazon:)

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