They Shall Not Grow Old (2018)

  • 8.3 /10.0 IMDB Rating:
  • DatePublished:
  • 2018-09-07 Added:
  • Writer:
  • Peter Jackson, Paul Wheatcroft, Director:
  • Producer:

Trailer:

10 / 10

We DO remember them.

"Trapped in a Charlie Chaplin World". So says director Peter Jackson in a post-screening discussion with Mark Kermode, describing early black and white documentary footage. Whereas modern film runs at 24 fps, most of the old footage is hand cranked, with speeds as low as 12 fps which leads to its jerky nature. Jackson in this project with the Imperial War Museum took their WW1 footage and put it through a 'pipeline process. This cleaned-up and restored the original footage; used clever computer interpolation to add in the missing 6 to 12 frames per second; and then colourised it.

The results are outstanding. Jackson wisely focuses the film on the specific slice of WW1 action from the trenches. And those anonymous figures become real, live, breathing humans on screen. It is obviously tragic that some (and as commented by Jackson, many in one scene) are not to be breathing humans for much longer.

These effects take a while to kick in. The early scenes in the documentary are in the original black and white, describing the recruitment process, and how many of the recruits were under-age. (To explain the varied comments in the film, they should have been 18, although officially shouldn't have been sent overseas until 19).

It is when the troops arrive in France that we suddenly go from black-and-white to the fully restored and colourised footage, and it is a gasp-inducing moment.

All of the audio commentary is from original BBC recordings of war veterans recounting their actual experiences in the trench. Some sound like heroes; some sound like rogues; all came out changed men. Supporting music of WW1 ditties, including the incredibly rude "Mademoiselle from Armentières" over the end credits, is provided by Plan 9.

But equally impressive is the dubbing of the characters onscreen. Jackson employed forensic lip-readers to determine what the soldiers on-screen were saying, and reproduced the speech using appropriate regional accents for the regiments concerned. Jackson also recounts how the words associated with a "pep-talk" speech to troops by an officer he found on an original slip of paper within the regimental records: outstanding. Added sound effects include real-life shelling by the New Zealand army. It all adds to the overall atmosphere of the film.

The film itself is a masterpiece of technical innovation that will change in the future the way in which we should be able to see this sort of early film footage forever. As a documentary it's near-perfection. But if I have a criticism of the cinema showing I attended it is that the 3D tended to detract rather than add to the film. Perhaps this is just my eyesight, but 3D always tends to make images slightly more blurry. Where (like "Gravity") there are great 3D effects to showcase, it's worth the slight negative to get the massive positive. But here, there was no such benefit: 2D would have been better. For those in the UK (and possibly through other broadcasters worldwide) the film is being shown on BBC2 tonight (11/11/18) at 9:30: I will be watching it again to compare and contrast.

Jackson dedicated the film to his grandfather. And almost all of us Brits will have relatives affected by this "war to end all wars". In my case, my grandfather was shot and severely wounded at Leuze Wood on the Somme, lying in the mud for four days and four nights before being recovered... by the Germans! Fortunately he was well-treated and, although dying young, recovered enough to father my father - else I wouldn't be here today writing this. On this Rememberance Sunday, 100 years on, it is a time for us to truly remember the sacrifice these men and boys gave to what, all in the film agree, was a pretty obstinate and pointless conflict.

10 / 10

An outstanding achievement on so many levels.

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.

10 / 10

A harrowing new perspective on 'The great War'

I was lucky enough to bag a ticket to the one off showing of Peter Jackson's They Shall Not Grow Old, having watched a lot of World War One documentaries and made countless visits to historic sites across France and Belgium I was keen to see what was being marketed as a 'new' perspective on The Great War, it did not disappoint. Jackson chose to create a narrow focus narrative for this 1 hour 30 minute documentary to allow the viewer to delve into the fine details often missed in more sweeping documentaries trying to cover all aspects and areas of the conflict. Jackson chose to look closely at the lives and experiences of British native frontline troops in Belgium. The documentary follows a linear timeline beginning with the breakout of war and the initial volunteering of thousands of young men excited and ready for an adventure for King and Country and ends with the great sense of loss and uncertainty of the future the troops had by the end of the war. The entire documentary is narrated by records of surviving troops recorded in the 60s and 70s, this was an intentional move by Jackson that definitely adds to the ability for the viewer to connect and relate to the survivors. I especially found the stories and anecdotes about the goings on behind the lines during down time and R&R for the troops captivating as it is often over looked in other documentaries solely concentrating on the combat and horrors of war. The pain staking effort and lengths Jackson and his team went to to restore this footage not only with colour but with frame rate, sharpness and especially sound is breath taking. Taking the time to have professional lip readers painstakingly review all the footage so allow us to then know and hear what was being said truly brought the footage to life. My only issue with the film, something that is made note of by Jackson is of course because of the time in history and available cameras there is no actual combat footage available so you do spend a large amount of time just watching still hand drawn cartoons of the battles from the time, something that cannot be avoided but does detract from the immersion the rest of the film creates. I highly recommend this film to everyone, it is important we see the true perspective of what our ancestors went through and never forget these brave men and women.

10 / 10

From a freelance colourising artist

As this historically important anniversary draws to a close, I just want to say that my viewing of this film was that of utter amazement. As a photo colouriser/restorer, I was absolutely astonished at the work PJ's team put into this. The transition from the original film material, then to the stabilised and corrected FPS and then the full colour and sound was one of the most spectacular things I have ever seen on the screen. The colour is natural and really helps emphasise the grittiness of war and brings out hidden details that may have been missed in the B&W source. Usually I prefer film not to be tampered with, but as Jackson says, this is how the men saw it - in living colour. The addition of the voiceovers from the surviving soldiers themselves is a great choice and doesn't distract and flows along nicely with the visuals. Throughout I expressed various emotions of sadness and shock, but surprisingly a few laughs, particularly one shot showing a soldier banging a tune on another soldiers helmet as they march.I do wish I had seen this on the big screen and I imagine what I have said is enhanced 100x more with that type of viewing. A fitting tribute to the men that did and didn't come home and I hope it is recognised and picks up many awards.

10 / 10

Mesmerising footage of the Great War.

I needed some time for this to sink in before commenting on it. This was equal parts funny, exciting, moving, harrowing, horrifying, upsetting.

Firstly, it's not a glossy documentary. There are some harrowing scenes in this that will, and should, upset you.

The first 25 minutes are of original black and white, speeded up footage with the original voices of troops telling their story over the top of it.

Then something amazing happens. The screen widens, the footage smoothes out, the colours shines through and in an instant your and seeing everything in so much more detail.

That said this was the first time I've seen footage from The Great War that didn't feel disconnected. It feels real. Seeing the colour on their cheeks and eyes, the dirt, the mud, the blood brings the old footage to life. Occasionally the colourisation takes on a slightly animated feel but never enough to draw you out of the engrossing scenes laid out before you.

Then the frame rate adjustment is amazing. Having computers generate the missing frames to adjust the variable 15-18fps to the regular 24fps is a visual butter knife that smoothes out the jerky footage.

Having the soldiers talk sounds like a mistake but it's done in such a subtle and sensitive way it never feels false. They've been lip synced perfectly and apparently even with the right accent for the infantry units depicted.

This was powerful viewing. Computers and technology being used for something so important, to allow 100+ year old footage to look so modern and yet not feel sanitised is amazing.

This should become compulsory viewing for every one, all schools too.

With footage thats this accessible there's no reason history should be forgotten.