They Shall Not Grow Old – Peter Jackson’s Amazing Journey Into The First WWI Trenches

“They Shall Not Grow Old” was presented for the first time yesterday in London, four years after the start of the project. Fascinated by the First World War, the director of Lord of the Rings did not think to obtain a “such result”.

Director Peter Jackson presented in London a spectacular documentary on the First World War, in color and 3D, the fruit of a colossal restoration work on dozens of hours of black and white archival footage.

Starring interviews with veterans, the film also benefits from an unprecedented soundtrack, the director having used the expertise of reading lip to decipher the words of soldiers, before inserting them in the film making them interpret by actors.

“They Shall Not Grow Old” will be presented for the first time at the London Film Festival (BFI), and screened simultaneously in various UK theaters.

“I was flabbergasted when we finished restoring this material. I did not suspect that we could get such a result, ” said Peter Jackson.

The project began four years ago in the office of Diane Lees, the director of the national organization of British military museums Imperial War Museums (IWM). Knowing that Peter Jackson was passionate about the First World War – his grandfather having fought there – Diane Lees had offered to collaborate in commemorating the centenary of the conflict.

“They wanted me to use their archive footage, but in a surprising way, ” recalls Jackson, who won an Oscar in 2004 for the final installment of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

80 hours of archive footage, 600 hours of audio recordings

From his native New Zealand, the filmmaker called on restoration specialists from around the world to transform more than 80 hours of archival footage into a 3D color film. The team faced a myriad of challenges: scratched or missing images, films shrinking over the course of the century or, in some cases, more than twice as slow as current formats.

It was “very moving,” says Peter Jackson about the restoration process. “See the faces of these men come back to life suddenly. ”

The 56-year-old filmmaker simultaneously plunged into over 600 hours of veteran audio recordings – made by IWM over the years and by the BBC in 1964 – for use as voiceovers. The team also recovered sounds of artillery fire, shell explosions and mines to enrich the soundtrack, with, at each stage, the ambition to do something original.

Images that will be reused in museums

The end result offers a striking, unprecedented vision of the First World War, showing with incredible luxury the life on the battlefields, in the trenches, going as far as restoring the sound of the lice that burst on contact. burned clothes.

“It allowed me to imagine what life was like in my grandfather’s day,” Jackson said. “Being able to see what he saw is something quite extraordinary.”

Beyond the horrors of war emerges a more nuanced picture of these men – and the many teenagers who had pretended to be 19 years old to fight – as soldiers capable of enduring the worst atrocities without feeling sorry for themselves. their fate. “These guys went through hell but they did not complain, ” says Jackson.

This restoration work has also converted dozens of hours of archive footage into a very high definition (4K) digital format, which will benefit the Imperial War Museums “This is an exceptional result, ” says Diane Lees that it will teach the history of war differently. “When you see (these images) in color, in 3D, with the voices of veterans telling their story, it’s incredibly powerful for new audiences.”