Tuesday, November 25, 2014

In short: The Great Martian War 1913-1917 (2013)

As much as I loathe the approach to historical documentaries TV channels like The History Channel stand for, the squeezing of the complexities of history into Hollywood-style narrative structures that turns what are supposed to be attempts to understand the truth about the past into fake melodramatic treacle, as ideally fit is the Channel – as represented by its British and Canadian divisions – for a fake documentary that uses this approach to tell an alternative history where World War I was replaced by a Martian invasion heavily inspired by H.G. Wells.

Though of course, this being the History Channel, the film suffers a bit under its need to include easily digestible bits of “human interest”, so there’s way too much agency for humanity to actually beat its invaders on its own instead of getting lucky with a cruel and uncaring universe (an element you’ll find a lot in Wells before he got too utopian, or as I for once agree with Brian Aldiss, when he was good). As an additional problem. the final act was in desperate need of the eyes of an actual Science Fiction writer to make it work, leaving the SF experienced a little nonplussed thanks to a lack of coherence and precision. At least, the twist ending does fit well into the film’s unsubtle yet potent metaphor of war as a self-perpetuating machine that churns through people, cultures and things only to spit out more destruction. And if that’s not a fitting metaphor for the 20th Century (and beyond), I don’t know what is.

Otherwise, I found myself quite enjoying the whole affair, the History Channel’s wallowing in human interest that always seems too well staged to actually move for once at least more palatable, the combination of real footage, CG and a few staged interviews potent and dramatically convincing because there’s no need to roll one’s eyes at the presentation when the film is indeed lying to you.

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