This year marks the 100th anniversary of World War I, one of the deadliest wars in the history of mankind. To memorialize this momentous and politically transformative event, Jonathan Kitzen — the Oscar-winning short-film director — has provided a moving, innovative 3-D film, “Soldiers’ Stories,” which utilizes the remnants of old photographs from the period to tell the story of the Great War and its Battle of the Somme.
As far as biopics go, the film follows the typical formula of most others, explaining how the war started and the scale to which the fighting escalated. This is most effectively done through the use of old photos, along with the narration of the late actor Mickey Rooney, a World War I expert and the voices of several U.S. veterans who were recently stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Each narrator conveys different aspects of the war, resulting in a more substantial delivery of content within the film. While Rooney fulfills the typical role that most famous actors play — using his voice and intonation to effectively “act out” the feelings of war — and while the historical expert effectively fulfills his role as the provider of background information, the U.S. veterans are the ones who truly bring a feeling of authenticity to the film. Kitzen accomplishes this by overlapping audio of U.S. veterans telling their own stories of war with old pictures of WWI soldiers.
In an interview with The Daily Californian, Kitzen explained that his reason for using U.S veterans instead of actual film actors was that he wanted to give the film a more realistic feel on the topic of war. As Kitzen put it, “War is fought by the young,” and because the oldest veteran of World War I died in 2011, he felt that the next best solution was to ask U.S. veterans about their experiences of war and then record the responses. This choice results in a more plausible mode of storytelling — one with a more moving and engaging plot.
It is not only the choice of narrators that brings the film a more visceral and gritty quality but also the use of 3-D visuals. The extra dimension adds a whole new feeling of depth — both literally and figuratively — to the film. While many have seen pictures of trenches in various battles, the 3-D visuals take the immersion to an entirely new level, transitioning the viewer from “seeing” what a trench looked like 100 years ago to “being” in a 100-year-old trench. Kitzen explained that 3-D technology has been around for a long time and that 3-D pictures have always been a popular option for photographers.
These are, however, still just 3-D images. In order to add a sense of movement, the film also includes some other visual effects to imitate the feeling of a 100-year-old film crew as it recorded the explosions and sounds of the battle. Camera distortion and impressive sound design further provide an intense shockwave of stomach-bubbling intensity that becomes overwhelming at times. This feeling is coupled with the inclusion of many pictures of dead soldiers, conveying a larger, grittier interpretation of the film. Many of these shocking pictures came into being because censorship lacked a concrete definition 100 years ago.
In addition to the immersive visual and sound design decisions, the film uses quotes from various sources in order to transition from one scene to another. While these quotes at first seem to add some beneficial exposition to the second section of the biopic, their presence starts to lose its appeal after some repetition.
As one of the few theatrical releases based on WWI, “Soldiers’ Stories” impressively expresses the darkness of war in a new and interesting way, delivering a compelling historical narrative.
Contact Evan Stallworth Carr at [email protected].