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Over the front – the Great War in the air – a review

By johnboy - 3 December 2008 39

[First filed: December 02, 2008 @ 13:19]

The War Memorial’s latest blockbuster Over the front is now open to the public and I went along this morning to see what magic Peter Jackson had wrought with the audio-visual presentation.

The exhibition and curation of artifacts is decidedly light weight. I suppose this is a function of the internet these days. They assume that if you’re looking to nerd out you’ll do it online. The five planes on display (SE5a fighter, Airco DH9 bomber, Avro 504K trainer, Albatros D.Va. and Pfalz D.XII) are really just there because they look cool.

But when the movie starts up is really what it’s all about.

The huge wrap-around screen is used ingeniously and basically if you took all the action sequences out of a war movie and spliced them together with a killer score and stirring narration… Well… This is what it would look like.

The surround sound in particular will blow you away with the rat-at-at of machine guns and the roar of the engines zooming away following the paths of planes that have disappeared off screen.

It’s free, it’s air-conditioned, it’s highly entertaining and somewhat informative.

I’m just slightly concerned about what it’s doing in a war memorial.

But what the heck, it’s rocking.


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39 Responses to
Over the front – the Great War in the air – a review
hulacat 7:51 pm 02 Dec 08

I went to the exhibition and walked out with a much greater appreciation about the lives of those who went to war! In order to understand and honour the amazing stories of those who lost their lives, you need to take the time to read about the items on display (imagine that)!

All five aircraft in the display have great signifigance in the history of Australians at war during World War I, and they are certainly not ‘just there because they look cool’ (although they do look cool)! This statement is simply uninformed, and I’m sure there are many people who would find this statement insulting.

If time is actually taken to read about the items on display, you can have an appreciation of the personal stories attached to each item – something that (although set against the grim stories of war) can be enlightening. As most of us have been lucky enough to not have been in the midst of a war like this, I think it’s only fair to those who were, that we gain a proper understanding of what they faced. How can we learn anything from the past otherwise?

I was moved by the story about the Albatros (the actual aircraft on display) and by the Australian pilots involved. Whether the Australian War Memorial is considered a memorial or a museum, I feel it gives a respectful and proper tribute to those who fought and died in war for Australia.

Panhead 7:51 pm 02 Dec 08

It makes me not want to join up the Army. Soldiers are the bravest people ever, more then all you keyboard warriors.

I-filed 7:49 pm 02 Dec 08

Well Walter Burley Griffin had it down on the original plans as a casino!

imhotep 5:17 pm 02 Dec 08

Thumper said :

“The AWM is actually a war memorial, and a war museum. Frankly it needs to remember that it is first and foremost a memorial.”

Why can’t it be both? It is world-class museum, hence its popularity. Every day hunderds of people and busloads of kids arrive there, and they are mostly interested in the museum aspect of the place -and I think it’s important that people see what many young Australians had to endure in past wars.

Yet anyone who wanders past all those names and into the Hall of Memory couldn’t help but be drawn to reflect the tragic loss of our youth. IMO it’s a pretty good mix of the interesting and the thought-provoking.

But how many people would ever see the memorial part if it wasn’t for the interesting museum?

BerraBoy68 4:57 pm 02 Dec 08

johnboy said :

Pretty much.

I question whether the War Memorial is turning itself into WAR WORLD in an endless quest for visitor numbers. In the process forgetting its original mission.

Thanks JB. I’ve not seen this display yet so was unsure of the context of your comment. If it is a rock opera type soundtrack then it probably could have been better handled. IMO the light and sound shows for WWII bomber command and Vietnam at the AWM are very tastefully done so if they’ve let themselves down here it’d be disappointing. I’ll have to get my backside up to the AWM to see/hear the show for myself

I also agree with Thumper – I’ve always been taught/believed the AWM was a memorial (it’s official history certainly hails it as such) and not a museum. That said, its easy to think it’s becoming more and more as the latter, especially given the kids ‘hands on’ exhibits. My son was freaked out in the kids exhibit recently when he stuck his foot under a pain of glass near the bottom of the trench and it suddenly showed his foot as the maggot-infested half blown away foot of a dead man. There was no warning that this would happen and it took me some time to calm him down – he was only 5. As said I’m not sure how such exhibits are ‘memorial’ rather than ‘museum’ related.

Mr_Shab 4:19 pm 02 Dec 08

Of course, I haven’t seen it yet; so I’m just talking out a fundamental orifice…

…situation normal then.

johnboy 3:40 pm 02 Dec 08

To be fair I think Jackson’s part is better focussed and more informative than the static display.

Mr_Shab 3:22 pm 02 Dec 08

Thumper – I too would call the AWM reflective; but I know more than a few folk who find it pretty grim (hell – I read an account of the battles of the Nek, Pozieres or Bullecourt and I find them grim…)

I think the original purpose of the piece is to give a bit of the feeling of what it was like to be in the cockpit of an SE5 in the middle of a dogfight. Maybe Peter Jackson wasn’t the man to hand it to; he’d be interested in making sure that it was spectacular, rather than a sensitive reflection of the facts. I think the facts would be a bit too much for the average punter (I think too explicit a reminder of the legions of young men who were hit by AA/machine gunned/burned alive in their aircraft would be a bit much for most).

Again – it’s a balancing act; and this might stray a little too far into entertainment for some (me included), but I can see why they’ve gone down this road.

Thumper 3:04 pm 02 Dec 08

I call it reflective, not grim.

Mr_Shab 3:01 pm 02 Dec 08

Good question – is it a memorial or a museum? Both?

It’s a tough balance – do you glam it up a bit, get more punters in the door and hope that a few of take something home that is greater than Mr Jackson’s exciting display. Or do you keep it more sombre; risking alienating a lot of punters who see it as uneccesarily grim.

I suspect as the “greatest generation” (to borrow the American term) pass on and the era of the citizen-soldier passes with it, we’ll see more razzle-dazzle in the AWM; as the grim reality of battle becomes known only to the professional soldiers of the RAR.

Thumper 2:54 pm 02 Dec 08

The AWM is actually a war memorial, and a war museum.

Frankly it needs to remember that it is first and foremost a memorial.

johnboy 2:45 pm 02 Dec 08

Pretty much.

I question whether the War Memorial is turning itself into WAR WORLD in an endless quest for visitor numbers. In the process forgetting its original mission.

Skidbladnir 2:29 pm 02 Dec 08

The AWM is a memorial. To war.
Which is this great big international get-together,which only happens occasionally.
The main event is killing people. For the necessities of the State.

Not a rollicking good time of entertainment, and nor should it be glorified for the impressionable young kiddies.

If ever you’re at the war memorial, feel free to ask about the dead guy buried in the floor, and the politics of how he got there.

BerraBoy68 2:15 pm 02 Dec 08

Thanks JB. I’m slightly confused by your comment about why it’s in the AWM though. Is this reference just the use of a ‘killer soundtrack’?

H1NG0 2:05 pm 02 Dec 08

Cool I might have to check this out. What have they moved or replaced to make space for this?

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