December 17, 2018

THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD: I’ve just gotten back from seeing Peter Jackson’s stunning new documentary in honor of the centennial of the end of WWI, along with a half-hour making-of video narrated by Jackson, at a theater in Fort Worth this afternoon. There will be another showing in American theaters on December 27th, and it’s well worth seeing in a movie theater, before the inevitable streaming and Blu-Ray releases. There’s a bit of a SPOILER ALERT in this New York Times review, but it gives a sense of the power of these images and how they were restored:

The film begins with basic training footage, in black and white, building to the moment when the soldiers go to the Western Front. That’s when the movie transitions into startling color. Was Jackson going for a dramatic, “Wizard of Oz”-style effect? Well, not exactly.

“It was all to do with the budget,” he said. Originally the documentary was to be about half an hour long. “The budget we had was to colorize about 30 to 40 minutes of film.” But as he and his team listened to the interviews, what the veterans said about training provided much-needed context, and the filmmakers didn’t want their movie to “jump straight into the trenches.” Still, the budget wasn’t flexible. So they settled on a feature-length movie with restored black-and-white footage bookending the dramatic, full-color highlights.

Stereo D also worked on converting the film to 3-D for a more immersive effect, a sense of being on the battlefield. And Park Road enhanced the experience with sound editing to rival that of “The Lord of the Rings.” But explosions, gunshots and tank engines aren’t as surprising as the moments when the soldiers speak.

“We got some forensic lip readers, who, before this, I had no idea actually existed,” Jackson said. These experts, who often work with law enforcement to help determine the words of people in security camera video, reviewed the archival footage to reconstruct, as nearly as possible, what the soldiers were saying.

Voice performers were hired to stand in for the soldiers, but Jackson’s team, mindful that regiments were drawn from different regions of Britain, made sure the actors came from those areas and had accurate accents. In a similar vein, military historians provided ideas for what off-camera officers’ commands might have been, and that information made its way into the film as well.

Jackson explains how the footage was reconstructed in the BBC clip below, but he goes into further detail in the making-of segment shown after the movie. Highly recommended, particularly on the big screen.