They Shall Not Grow Old documentary review

★★★★★

Directed by: #PeterJackson

Documentary Film Review by: #DarrenTilby




Made to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the end of the #FirstWorldWar and featuring never-before-seen, fully restored and #colourised footage. Peter Jackson's stunning documentary brings to life the experiences of ordinary soldiers like never before.


“You’re not going to learn anything about the #FirstWorldWar from a greater view,” says Jackson, whose aim here isn’t to inform of the political workings of war, nor the tactics used by its now infamous Generals. Instead, he has opted to focus on the personal experiences of the common soldier.


To do this, he and his team trawled through over 600 hours of interviews with over 200 soldiers in their search for voices to express that first-hand experience. Jackson doesn’t stop there, however: hiring a small army of forensic lip-readers to determine what the soldiers on-screen were saying, then having actors reproduce the dialogue (in the correct regional accents, I might add) and dubbing it over the original footage. Modern recordings of things like real-life artillery shelling (courtesy of the New Zealand army), grinding tank tracks and whinnying horses are also added to complete the audio restoration.


Of course, none of this would have worked had the film restoration not been done to a high standard. The moral conundrum of whether #monochromatic film should be colourised is still a hotly debated one. But let me say, as someone who is not generally a fan of #colourisation, Peter Jackson has absolutely nailed it.


The #restorative effects take a while to kick in. The film, beginning in black and white, details the recruitment process and training undertaken by recruits. Not until the troops arrive in France do we get to see the #restoration in all its magnificence. It’s a wise move. #Colourising the whole film would obviously be much more expensive and time-consuming, but would also have detracted from what is, as it stands, an awe-inspiring moment.


#Colourisation is only the surface of Jackson’s film #restoration, however. The problem with old film footage like this is the camera speed or frames per second (fps). Early film was usually hand cranked, which resulted in an often varying and always low camera speed, usually around 12 fps; which is what gives it that sped up jerky look. Most modern film is shot at 24 fps, which presents a problem when you want to ‘correct’ the speed as around 12 frames per second are missing. To counter this, Jackson has used advanced computer techniques (which I really don’t understand) to fill in the missing frames; producing footage that runs at a normal speed.


Everything comes together in complete perfection. And, in an instant, this seemingly distant #war and the apparitions who haunt its landscapes are brought miraculously back to life.


The result is nothing short of a technological masterpiece, not to mention one of the most poignant and moving #wardocumentaries ever made. Astounding, with both its beauty and its savagery. They Shall Not Grow Old needs to be seen by as many people as possible.