Peter Jackson delivers an astounding feat of filmmaking as he brings WW1 to strikingly poignant life.

For these soldiers, when the camera ran out of roll, or the filming was stopped the war didn’t end. Peter Jackson has reminded us of that.

By Jonathan Reed

Video supplied by Trafalgar Releasing©

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War 1. Such an event as this warrants a special act of recognition and famed movie Director, Peter Jackson has delivered an astounding and defining moment in archive footage restoration.

Jackson and his team decided to create a documentary that would focus on the men who served on the front line throughout World War 1, instead of on the war itself. But Peter Jackson, the man behind the epic Lord of The Rings trilogy, wanted to go a step further. This element of focus would be beyond anything ever put on screen. The footage dating back to 1914, would be ‘cleaned up’ and transformed with computer technology to ensure that ‘They Shall Not Grow Old’ would display the experience of the Great War, like never before.

There is a cacophony of adjectives that could be used to describe Jackson’s immense feat of success here; moving, poignant, immersive, the list is endless. But one word that pushes to the forefront is ‘real.’

It was always easy to watch the archive footage from World War 1 and even World War 2 and feel a sense of detachment. You knew the events recorded were not acted, they were a documentation of time, but the grainy, silent images along with the speeded-up movements always felt aged, as if from a time long forgotten. With this came a lack of emotional investment. But this has all changed. Peter Jackson said he wished to “reach through the fog of time” and, by god has he done just that.

Jackson and his magic restoration team have expertly restored 100-year-old film and made it look as if it was captured yesterday. The fluidity of the soldier’s movements and tone and depth of the re-coloured images are awe-inspiring. Suddenly the sense of detachment fades away, instead replaced with a gut-wrenching feeling of loss, sadness and hope. The added element of forensic lipreaders who were able to relay what those exceptional men were saying on the silent screen allowed actors to dub their voices. It this element that moved us deeply and accentuated the feeling of renewed reality.

‘They Shall Not Grow Old’ literally gifts these men their voices back. Combined with voiceovers from interviews with those who served on the front-line, the experience is as personal as any war documentary has ever been. The comradery and to some, humorous interactions take these soldiers from being flickering figures on a roll of film and reminds us all that they were human beings whom lived, loved and in far too often cases, died.

The reality of the human sacrifice is laid bare throughout, and whilst Jackson doesn’t deliberately make the documentary about loss, instead focusing of the brotherhood of war; it is the theme that stays with you long after the credits roll.

These were men that climbed over the tops of trenches, where many where shot and killed before even taking a step in ‘No Man’s Land.’ They showed unity and humour in the face in unimaginable horror. What Peter Jackson has done is make the unimaginable more than imaginable; it is a reality on the screen. The fight, fears and fatal loss is hard to shake from your conscience. No longer is the sacrificial tone of war, rhetoric, it is tangible and physical.

In transforming this footage, Jackson has done more than just remind us all of World War 1, he has placed us inside the trenches, sitting at the benches in the camps, marching onto the next destination singing songs from back home. Jackson has taken us into the reality of these men’s lives, many of whom never returned to the shores they called home. It is a feat that seldom stands taller than any technological success or colourisation.

It is hard to not feel the effectiveness of ‘They Shall Not Grow Old’. For many years, many have worried over the lack of interest amongst the younger generations when it comes to the commemoration of the past and present conflicts. This documentary ends those concerns.

The pure relentless detail that encapsulates every frame; colour, speed, sound, it is hard to not lose your attention from the surrounding theatre and instead be transported over a 100 years ago to the scarred and battered lands of Europe. The truly immersive feeling of this documentary reminds you of what came before your time and why the freedoms we enjoy should be commemorated today and for generations to come.

‘They Shall Not Grow Old’ is more than just a documentary, it is more that just the historic footage of war captured over 100 years ago, with its poignant experience faded through time. It is the human reality of thousands of men, who just happened to be filmed with a camera. For them when the camera ran out of roll, or the filming was stopped the war didn’t end. Peter Jackson has reminded us of that.

In bringing these men’s stories into the 21st Century, brighter and clearer than ever before, he ensures that their brave legacy can and should stand the test of time. And as like the documentary’s title and in the words of Lawrence Binyon: “They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning. We will remember them.

Image courtesy of The Royal British Legion ©