Peter Jackson’s They Shall Not Grow Old: “A visually staggering thought experiment; an immersive deep-dive into what it was like for ordinary British soldiers on the western front.”

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I find this utterly fascinating. There have been images of the period captured in rare, early color film, and there has been colorization of film.

However, this is a whole new level.

They Shall Not Grow Old review – Peter Jackson’s electrifying journey into the first world war trenches, by Peter Bradshaw (The Guardian)

Jackson has restored, colourised and added voices to footage of the western front, bringing the soldiers unforgettably back to life

To mark the centenary of the first world war’s end, Peter Jackson has created a visually staggering thought experiment; an immersive deep-dive into what it was like for ordinary British soldiers on the western front. This he has done using state-of-the-art digital technology to restore flickery old black-and-white archive footage of the servicemen’s life in training and in the trenches. He has colourised it, sharpened it, put it in 3D and, as well as using diaries and letters for narrative voiceover, he has used lip-readers to help dub in what the men are actually saying.

The effect is electrifying. The soldiers are returned to an eerie, hyperreal kind of life in front of our eyes, like ghosts or figures summoned up in a seance. The faces are unforgettable.

Watching this, I understood how the world wars of the 20th century are said to have inspired surrealism. Thirty or so years ago, there was a debate in film circles about the sacrilege of colourising classic black-and-white movies. This is different. The colourisation effect is artificial, as is 3D (as is monochrome, too, of course), and the painterly approximation of reality presents a challenge to what you consider “real” on film. After a few minutes, I realised that force of cultural habit was causing me to doubt what I was seeing, because colour means modern. The colourisation, and everything else, is a kind of alienation shock tactic as well as a means of enfolding you in the experience. It is an indirect way of reminding you that this really did happen to people like you and me …

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