They Shall Not Grow Old: Documentary Review by Peter Jackson.


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It’s only October and I have already seen two Oscar winning films.  This (for best documentary) and A star is Born for loads of things.

Months ago I bought a ticket for this special live (3D) screening of this BFI film from the London Film Festival featuring a post film interview between Peter Jackson (the most modest man in cinema) and Mark Kermode (the most adulatory)

I thought it would be special.

It was more than that.

It was a landmark.

It was actually a significant night in cinematic history, because what Peter Jackson has achieved here is unparalleled.

We’ve all seen colourised war footage.  It’s interesting, but in reality it’s a bit pants.

This is the real deal.  A step forward in technology driven by heart, emotion, passion, DNA.

In this truly remarkable documentary Jackson brings us footage from the WW1 front line trenches in a way that you can’t even begin to imagine.

First he restored hours of black and white footage to remove grain, scratches, burn marks etc.

Then he graded it.

Then he fixed all the film sprockets so they don’t jiggle about and blur.

Then, get this, he turned it all from a hotch-potch of 10/11/12/14/16 and 17 Frames per second into it all being 24 FPS.

This is not insignificant.

A 17 FPS film transferred to 24 frames needs to ‘find’ 7 frames.  It needs to create them, to fill in the gaps to make film flow as we expect.  How one does that I have no clue.  Frankly, neither does Jackson, but he knows people who were up to it and deliver on the challenge.

So, as Jackson puts it, we don’t see Charlie Chaplinesque war footage.  We see dignified film of soldiers in real time as our eye would compute it.  This is important because it makes it so real.

Then he, frame by frame, colourised the whole lot.

Then he put a team of lip readers onto it to work out what the soldiers were saying when they spoke to camera (in 1914-18 there was no film/sound recording).

Then he recorded both battleground sound effects, by enlisting the NZ army, and the words these soldiers were saying, through actors, and lip synched and background-noised the whole thing.

Then he launched it.

The man is a genius.

The result is beyond words incredible.

On many occasions I gasped out loud, not least when he moved from the first reel, which shows unmodified footage of the preparation of enlistees for WWI, into the reality of war.

In a stunning coup de theatre the screen changes shape.

The audiences audibly gasps.

We are in a new reality.

Now, this all makes it sound like this is simply an exercise in technological show-offery.

No.  this focuses on soldiers.  Poor.  Young.  Men.

With terrible teeth, but with opinion, with humour, with dignity, with resolute spirit.

And not just young British men.

Perhaps the most affecting part of this film is where German POW’s muck in and join the Brits.   It’s clear that in those days this was duty and honour for one’s country, absolutely NOT hatred of the enemy.

This is a truly remarkable film experience.

It’s important.

Find a way of seeing it.

It’s much more than a cinematic landmark.

It’s a historical one, because the legacy Peter Jackson’s 14-18-Now and Imperial War Museum commission gives the world is new technology that will allow all sorts of ancient film archives to become living history.

In this case the 100 minutes that are committed to film are actually backed up by a further 100 hours of monochrome footage that Jackson’s team has restored (free of charge) for his commissioners.

See when international honours are handed out (I think Bono has a knighthood for example) Peter Jackson needs to be number one on the list for this real and important achievement.

I assume a further Oscar is in the bag.

One thought on “They Shall Not Grow Old: Documentary Review by Peter Jackson.

  1. Pingback: A War of Two Halves by Paul Beeson and Tim Barrow, produced by This Is My Story and Nonsense Room: Theatre review | gibberish

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