I'm always a sucker for my own hype, and having written recently for an airline magazine about the quirky and cultural joys of Wellington, I was pleased to be flying down there for a quick weekend break. The focus was to be WWI and specifically, of course, Gallipoli: opening just before Anzac Day, while I was in Turkey at the actual location, were a couple of exhibitions that really would have been fabulous preparation for that trip, had it been possible for me to visit them beforehand.
The first was at Te Papa, the National Museum, and it was the goal of many other people too, to see it. But staying just across the road at the very distinctive Museum Art Hotel (life-sized bull made of corned beef tins in the lobby, classic motorbikes there too, and many nude studies) meant we could get near the doors before they opened and the queues built up to over an hour. We all knew it would be worth it, though, because the marvellous Weta Workshop was deeply involved in the exhibits. The first thing you see is a wounded soldier, Lt Spencer Westmacott, in mid-shout as he lies on the ground, blood running from his shoulder down his right hand, gun transferred to his left, aiming at the enemy still, but now at the easier target of the torso rather than the head. It was his first and last day of the war.
Westmacott is unbelievably realistic - every hair on his stubbled chin, every drop of sweat, the despairingly determined expression in his eyes - and it's all the more overwhelming because the scale is 2.6 so he's huge, unavoidable, in full colour, right there. And so is his story, in voice-over and in words and pictures just beyond. It's a startling beginning, and the exhibition continues grabbing you by the throat all the way through. There are other larger-than-life mannequins, two of the saddest a doctor and a nurse, as well as a timeline along the floor that you follow, looking at real guns and uniforms and jam-tin bombs, studying a diorama of Quinn's Post, peering through a periscope, hearing the flies, skirting past latrines, sitting in Col William Malone's dugout and reading his last letter to his wife.
You soon get past marvelling at the artistry (moulds, casts, 3D printers, every hair, pore and wrinkle done by hand) and get fully immersed in the experience which is so vivid and immediate it doesn't feel like history. It's real - and unmissable. It's on till 2018. Go see it.