Black and white silent film footage from World War I has been transformed by Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson into a 3D color movie to mark the centenary of the end of the conflict.
The legendary filmmaker painstakingly restored and colored hours of archival footage and paired it with historical veterans’ interviews and a special effects soundtrack, to bring the war back to life in an unprecedented way. This included using lip readers to decipher what soldiers were saying in the century-old film and inserting new matching audio recorded with actors.
The film -- "They Shall Not Grow Old" -- will be unveiled for the first time at the London Film Festival next week, and simultaneously screened in different venues across Britain. "I was absolutely gobsmacked by the time we’d finished restoring this stuff, I’d had no idea that it could be done so well," Jackson told AFP ahead of the release. "People have restored film before, but they haven’t really restored it to the Nth degree."
The project began four years ago in the office of Diane Lees, director general of Britain’s Imperial War Museums (IWM). Aware Jackson was a WWI "addict" whose grandfather fought in the conflict, Lees pitched him the idea of collaborating for the centenary of the conflict
Working in his native New Zealand, the filmmaker used his own production company and other restoration specialists around the world to begin transforming more than 80 hours of old footage into color film. The team encountered myriad challenges, from scratches and missing frames to film that had shrunk over the century and in some cases was more than twice as slow as modern footage.
At the same time, Jackson was listening to over 600 hours of audio interviews with veterans -- recorded by the IWM over the years and by the BBC in 1964 -- to use as narration over the footage. Meanwhile, the team also sourced other elements of the soundtrack, such as the sound of artillery firing and shells and mines exploding.
As he plotted the documentary’s course Jackson said he tried to shake other war documentaries he had seen from his brain in a bid to produce something wholly original. What has emerged is "a story of the men who fought in the western front". It captures battlefield life for the soldiers in unprecedented colour, depth and excruciating detail -- from the scenes of depravity in the trenches to the sound of popping lice being burned from clothing. "It gave me an appreciation of being alive at the time that my grandfather was alive," Jackson said. "The fact that I can look at something that he saw, I thought ’wow this is pretty extraordinary’."
Despite the horrors of war on display, a more nuanced picture emerges of the men -- and many teenagers who had pretended to be aged 19 to be able to fight -- without self-pity. "These guys went through hell but they didn’t feel sorry for themselves," noted Jackson.
Lees, of the IWM, said the museum was not only benefitting from the 99-minute film, but from more than 80 hours of restored footage now returning to its archives in 4K digital format. "It’s an astonishing piece of work," Lees added of the collaboration, which she hopes will educate a new generation on the war. "When you see it in colour, in 3D, and the voices of the veterans over the top telling their narrative it is incredibly powerful for new audiences."
The WingNut Films production, complimented with archival material provided by the BBC and London’s Imperial War Museum, will be making its premiere at the BFI London Film Festival followed by a U.K.-wide release of the 2D/3D film by Trafalgar Releasing on that same day, October 16th.
"For the Fallen" was specifically composed in honor of the casualties of the British Expeditionary Force, which by then already suffered severely at the Battle of Mons and the Battle of the Marne in the opening phase of the war on the Western Front.
They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam.
As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.
The Winnowing Fan: Poems of the Great War in 1914
The London Times (1914)
(and BAM! A cross over to my other blog, on poetry http://better-than-palgrave.blogspot.com/ )