They Shall Not Grow Old Review: Peter Jackson’s Astonishing, Emotional Look at WWI

After a few of those weird one-off Fathom Events screenings that you never hear about in time, Peter Jackson’s World War I documentary They Shall Not Grow Old is being given a proper theatrical release. Jackson—who, in addition to being super into hobbits, is also a big WWI buff—and his team got their hands on archival footage of the war, and they used computers to colorize, clean up, and speed-correct the film to make it more realistic. With the addition of narration from veterans recorded by the BBC years later and some unobtrusive, newly recorded foley, the documentary gives us a fresh, immersive look at images from more than a century ago.

It’s pretty astonishing, and a rare example of technological trickery being used for good (as opposed to, say, the ugly ultra-high frame rate Jackson used in The Hobbit). While some of the footage is a tad unreal (faces, for example, seem to be frozen, floating atop moving bodies, although this may have to do with the subjects gawping at the unfamiliar cameras), They Shall Not Grow Old by and large looks incredible. Better still, it’s an effective documentary in its own right, telling a cohesive and emotional story about the soldiers’ experience on the ground, contrasting unaltered film in scenes filmed in Britain with Jackson’s transformed footage for the theater of war on the continent.

Better still is the making-of documentary that follows the presentation, with before-and-after comparisons that should provoke oohs and ahs, and fascinating

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