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World War 1 Fantastic – Film

Unless you’ve been hiding out on some island hidden in the Bermuda Triangle, you may have heard the news that DC/Warner Brothers hotly anticipated Wonder Woman movie starring Gal Gadot will take place during World War 1 instead of the era where she was first introduced. DC must’ve read my mind because I’ve always imagined what Diana’s story would be like in the 1910s instead of the 1940s. This shows creativity on DC’s part because if they stuck with tradition, the film would be compared to Marvel’s Captain America: The First Avenger endlessly. It’ll also introduce a new generation of girls and women not just to a feminist icon but to a bygone era that changed the world a hundred years ago.

But I’m not here to speculate on a movie that won’t be out until next year (FACT: 2017 will be the centennial of America’s entry into the first world war). Today I’m here write another post about The War to End All Wars as seen through the lens of speculative fiction. My first post in the series looked at novels. My second one was about television. My last post listed video games. If you’ve guessed by now that today’s article is about film – you’re right!

Impossible! You say. There aren’t any fantastical films about World War 1! Ah, but that’s where you’re wrong! They do exist, you just have to find them.

Biggles: Adventures In Time: (1986. Released in the UK as simply Biggles). A film with arguably one of the most laughable taglines in movie history:

Meet Jim Ferguson. He lived a daring double-life with one foot in the 20th century and the other in World War 1.

Think for awhile why that that sounds so absurd. No, it’s not “double-life” part.

James “Biggles” Bigglesworth was a character from a series of book by W.E. Johns about an ace pilot and his adventures during and after the Great War. The first story, “The White Fokker” was published in 1932. The series grew in popularity to the point where they continued after Johns’ death. So it was only appropriate to make a full-length feature film about the character right.

Yes, except the original script was going to be closer in tone to the books and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Then Back to the Future was released…The success of that film made executives want to cash in on its popularity and the script was altered to include a modern day character named Jim Ferguson who “stumbles” into 1917 and befriends the titular hero. Jim later learns (from Peter Cushing, in his final film role) that he and Biggles are “time twins” two men who travel through time when one or the other is in mortal danger. OK if Jim just learned he had this ability in 1917 why didn’t he travel to the first three years of the war when Biggles’ life was threatened repeatedly? You know what, never mind. It’s too confusing. In case your wondering, yes, the film was a flop. Enjoy the trailer:

Deathwatch: (2002) A horror movie directed by Michael J. Bassett about a group of British soldiers who are suddenly surrounded by a mysterious “mist” and find themselves on the enemy side of the trenches where terrified German soldiers cower in fear about “something else further down the trenches”. Ignoring their warnings, the soldiers investigate and find rotting bodies, bloodied mud and an inhuman growl in the distance. Needless to say it all goes downhill from there and the British soldiers learn the true meaning of “No Man’s Land”. The question is, is the horror the result of supernatural forces or is it all in the soldiers’ heads? The cast includes a non-CGI Andy Serkis.

Here’s the trailer:

Sucker Punch: (2011) This film is not about World War 1. It’s about a girl living in 1959 who wants to escape from a mental asylum with her friends before she gets lobotomized. Or something like that. This film is very divisive among femgeeks: some call it a sexist masturbatory fantasy, others say it’s a critique about the sexualization of women in popular culture. One scene everyone remembers best, though, is Baby Doll’s (Emily Browning) fantasy sequence where she and Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), Amber (Jamie Chung), Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) and Rocket (Jena Malone) navigate through the trenches of World War 1 to retrieve a map. But they must fight off steam powered zombie enemy soldiers because all the allied soldiers are too shell-shocked to fight. The only available clip on YouTube is shown in three parts and is erroneously titled “Nazi Zombies”:

War of the Worlds: Goliath: (2012) This Malaysian animated film is a loose sequel to H.G. Wells’ seminal classic. It’s 1914, 15 years after the first Martian invasion. The world, as you know, is mobilizing itself for the Great War. Except this time the weapons used are engineered from Martian technology that was scrapped after the invaders died from disease. Just as war begins – how convenient! – the Martians return. With bigger, badder weapons! And stronger immune systems! As a wise man once said: “there’s always a bigger fish”.

Here’s the trailer:

So what do you think? Have you seen these films? Do you know of any other sf/fantasy/horror films that take place during The War to End All Wars? Let me know in the comments.


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World War 1 Fantastic – Television

In a previous post, I talked about literature that explored the “what-if?” side to The War to End All Wars. Now I’m going to turn my attention to the depiction of the First World War in genre television.

There aren’t a lot of shows about WW1, fantastical or otherwise but there’s been some very memorable episodes from some very classic shows that presented stories in a Great War setting.

The Twilight Zone – “The Last Flight”, Season 1, Episode 18


British Flight Lieutenant Terry Decker has just abandoned, mid battle, his comrade in arms, American Alexander Mackaye to enemy planes. Mid-flight he passes through a cloud – and finds himself on an American airbase in 1959 France.

After he’s taken into custody, Decker learns, to his horror, that he’s time jumped 42 years. He tells the officers that he believes that Mackaye was killed in action, even though the other officers try to convince him otherwise: Mackaye survived, became an Air Vice Marshall, fought in the Second World War, saved lives from enemy bombing, and is coming later to inspect the base. Still believing Makcaye dead due to abandoning his military duties, Decker comes to the realization that the “cloud” he flew into was fate giving him a second chance. He escapes his captors and flies back into the skies, to correct his mistake.

Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond – “The Vision”, Season 1, Episode 10


A supernatural anthology series that based its stories on true events.

Starring Pernell Roberts of Bonanza fame and Peter Miles (The Red Pony), “The Vision” tells the story of three French soldiers in 1915 who experienced a flash of light and, in a trance, retreated from their posts. The men are tried and sentenced to be executed for desertion and cowardice.

However, a German POW who deserted his post recounted that he too experienced the same light on the same day and soon reports of more soldiers, both enemies and allies, come pouring in with sightings of the mysterious light in the sky. The three soldiers are exonerated.

The Time Tunnel – “The Ghost of Nero”, Season 1, Episode 19

Produced and created by Irwin Allen, The Time Tunnel told the story of two American scientists, Tony Newman and Doug Phillips, who get trapped in their top-secret time travel project which takes them into various moments in time both past and future. One episode has the two men end up in 1915 Italy where an Italian count offers them refuge from the Germans. Somehow the ghost of Nero (yes, that Nero) possesses one of the German officers and tries to kill the count because he’s descended from Galba, another Roman emperor. Chaos ensues, the ghost flies through the tunnel into Project HQ, Project HQ sends it back, the ghost ends up possessing a young corporeal named Benito Mussolini. This is probably the only episode in the entire sci-fi series that employs a supernatural element. Unfortunately, it’s also very inaccurate: Italy didn’t declare war on Germany until 1916. Weird.

Night Gallery – “Lone Survivor”, Season 1, Episode 5


A second anthology series created and hosted by Rod Serling in the 1970s, Night Gallery took a more horror/macabre route than The Twilight Zone. Serling presents a painting that tells a story of a mysterious lifeboat survivor who’s been cursed to sink every ship he’s ever brought aboard. One night he’s picked up by a famous ocean liner. The name of that ocean liner? The Lusitania.

Voyagers! – “Pilot” and “Worlds Apart” Season 1, Episode 1 and 5


Starring the late Jon-Erik Hexum in his most well-known role as time-traveler Phineas Bogg, Voyagers! teamed him up with wunderkind Jeffrey Jones (Meeno Peluce) where, with the help of a device called the Omni, they would travel through various time periods, meet various historical figures, then find ways to keep history from being altered. In the pilot, they stumble into a World War 1 without airplanes, then after a meeting with the Wright Brothers, stumble back into a World War 1 with airplanes and battle The Red Baron (shot down by an 11-year-old kid!). The second episode to take place during the Great War was “Worlds Apart”, in which Bogg and Jeffrey lend aid to Lawrence of Arabia (in 1917, with 80s hair!) in his fight against the Ottoman Empire.

Batman: The Brave and The Bold: “Aquaman’s Outrageous Adventure!” Season 2, Episode 30


BTBATB was a homage to the Silver Age of comics where the Dark Knight was, uh, less dark. The show would often have him team up with other superheroes in the DC Universe for crime-fighting adventures. At the beginning of every episode of BTBATB, there’s a “teaser” where Batman would team up with a much, much lesser known DC character that was all but forgotten by readers. The guest star was none other than German flyer Hans von Hammer, otherwise known as Enemy Ace. A time traveling Batman is flying his, uh, batplane? Bi-batplane? Bat-biplane? Whatever. He’s flying over the trenches because some squid-like aliens are supplying the German army with advanced weaponry, giving them an advantage over the Allies. Enemy Ace, patriot that he is, is determined to shoot Batman down because he’s the “enemy” until Batman convinces him that alien intervention will put the Allies at a disadvantage and it wouldn’t be a fair fight. This argument appeals to Ace’s code of honor in combat and the two team up to defeat the aliens.

So what genre tv shows have you seen that dedicated an episode to the Great War?


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World War 1 Fantastic – Novels

Maybe it’s because the second one was longer and much bloodier. Maybe it’s because American participation came just as the war was ending. Or maybe because it’s hard to pinpoint a “good side” and a “bad side” – i.e. no Nazis. Or the science of the era was too antiquated from a contemporary standpoint. Whatever the reasons, The War to End All Wars, today known as World War 1, gets overlooked by many speculative fiction authors in favor of its sequel.

But the fantastic stories do exist and my goal is to alert my readers to these stories that take a look at the Great War from a sci-fi perspective. Let’s start with novels (I’ll try my best not to post any spoilers):

Note:  Most summaries come from Amazon.

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Another note: Aren’t these jaw-dropping Russian covers to Behemoth and Goliath simply divine?! 

The Leviathan Trilogy by Scott Westerfeld

Leviathan (2009), Behemoth (2010), Goliath (2011)


In this striking futuristic rendition of an alternate past where machines are pitted against genetically modified beasts, Aleksandar Ferdinand, a Clanker, and Deryn Sharp, a Darwinist, are on opposite sides in the First World War. But their paths cross in the most unexpected way, and together they embark on an around-the-world adventure….One that will change both their lives forever.

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The Great War Trilogy by Harry Turtledov

American Front (1998), Walk in Hell (1999), Breakthroughs (2000)

Alternate History

When the Great War engulfed Europe in 1914, the United States and the Confederate States of America, bitter enemies for five decades, entered the fray on opposite sides: the United States aligned with the newly strong Germany, while the Confederacy joined forces with their longtime allies, Britain and France.

As President Theodore Roosevelt rallied the diverse ethnic groups of the northern states–Irish and Italians, Mormons and Jews–Confederate President Woodrow Wilson struggled to hold together a Confederacy still beset by ignorance, prejudice, and class divisions. And as the war thundered on, southern blacks, oppressed for generations, found themselves fatefully drawn into a climactic confrontation …


The Bloody Red Baron by Kim Newman


Fantasy/Horror/Alternate History

Graf von Dracula commands the German army, Manfred von Richthofen is the best vampire pilot of the skies and Edgar Allen Poe writes his biography. ‘Nuff said.


1920: America’s Great War by Robert Conroy


Alternate History

Imperial Germany has become the most powerful nation in the world.  In 1914, she had crushed England, France, and Russia in a war that was short but entirely devastating.

By 1920, Kaiser Wilhelm II is looking for new lands to devour.  The United States is fast becoming an economic super-power and the only nation that can conceivably threaten Germany.  The U.S. is militarily inept, however, and is led by a sick and delusional president who wanted to avoid war at any price.  Thus, Germany is able to ship a huge army to Mexico to support a puppet government.

Her real goal: the invasion and permanent conquest of California and Texas.


The Warlord of the Air by Michael Moorcock


What would the world have been like if World War 1 never happened? Captain Oswald Bastable, a man living in 1902, is flung into an alternate future, to find out.

It is 1973, and the stately airships of the Great Powers hold benign sway over a peaceful world. The balance of power is maintained by the British Empire – a most equitable and just Empire, ruled by the beloved King Edward VIII. A new world order, with peace and prosperity for all under the law. Yet, moved by the politics of envy and perverse utopianism, not all of the Empire’s citizens support the marvelous equilibrium…

ZombieWar jacket

The Great Undead War

Book 1: By The Blood of Heroes (2012), Book 2: On Her Majesty’s Behalf (2014)

Steampunk/Alternate History/Horror

At the tail end of 1917, the Germans introduced a new type of gas to the battlefield, T-Leiche, or “corpse gas,” and changed the face of the war by resurrecting the bodies of the dead, giving the enemy an almost unlimited source of fresh troops. Among the infested was The Red Baron himself (first a vampire Red Baron and now a zombie Red Baron? The man can’t get a break.)

It’s up to a group of Allied soldiers to brave the zombie – infested battlefield to save Britain from an uncertain fate.


Fate of the Nations: Einstein Must Die!


1916 AD – Impending war with England has given Nikola Tesla the chance to build his dream: a weapon to end all wars. The American steam-powered Beowulf tank is larger than a house, and carries enough firepower to face an army. Beowulf also has a mechanical brain, embedded with the consciousness of Colonel Browning, America’s best military strategist.

But in England, King George has put Albert Einstein to work for his own war effort: zeppelins capable of reaching the former colony, and new, radiological bombs to remind them of the price of disloyalty.

So that’s my list so far. Anything I missed? What sf/fantasy/horror novels have you read that take place during World War 1? Leave a comment.

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