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'They Shall Not Grow Old' brings color to war largely seen only in shades of gray

By KEN-YON HARDY | Stars and Stripes | Published: December 19, 2018

GAITHERSBURG, Md.— Never have techniques been used to present such a masterful display of cinema magic as in the new film, “They Shall Not Grow Old.”

The film gives a rare glimpse into World War I using never-before seen footage more than 100 years old and restored in a new way.

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“People have been restoring film for decades … but can we really make this film look brand new?” Academy Award-winning director Peter Jackson said, describing his goal for the film during an interview with Stars and Stripes. “If we put all of the computer firepower we have just on this task … you’re basically just repairing 100 years of old film damage.”

Applying state-of-the-art restoration, colorization and 3D technologies to century-old footage -- carefully chosen from hundreds of hours of original footage from the archives of the Imperial War Museums — Jackson has created an intensely gripping, immersive and authentic cinematic experience.

The narration comes from Great War veterans, selected from over 600 hours of BBC and museum audio interviews, resulting in a gripping account of “The War to End All Wars” told by the British soldiers who experienced it.

By restoring the original footage to a standard never seen before, the human face of WWI emerges with vivid clarity. Jackson captures the day-to-day experience of soldiers and reveals the reality of war for those on the front line: their attitudes about the conflict; their camaraderie and their need for humor amid the horror; the functions of daily life in the trenches; and their lives at rest.

Jackson, best known for the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, has a personal interest in the topic: His British grandfather fought in WWI.

The film starts with an introduction to life as a soldier. You hear from the servicemen about why they wanted to fight and how old they were when they signed up. Some were as young as 14, even though the age to enlist was 19.

After the brief introduction, the visual goes from black and white to colorized, 3-D magnificence and shows the troops at war.

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At 1 hour and 39 minutes long, the film flows perfectly, giving the audience a chance to see soldiers preparing for war and in battles. For a lot of the servicemen, the interviews were their first time in front of a video camera, and it’s evident throughout the film as they gaze or try to act as if it isn’t there.

“They Shall Not Grow Old” was produced by Clare Olssen and Jackson, with executive producers Ken Kamins and Tessa Ross.

The documentary will be shown again in select theaters Dec. 27. Warner Bros., which acquired the film after its London debut, will then release it in New York, Los Angeles and Washington on Jan. 11 with plans to expand locations Feb. 1, Super Bowl weekend, according to Deadline.com.

hardy.kenyon@stripes.com

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A clip from the new World War I documentary, "They Shall Not Grow Old."


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