Peter Jackson’s new masterpiece shows the human side of WWI

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The filmmaker Peter Jackson deserves more than an Oscar; he deserves a medal.

What the director of the “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” movies has done with his World War I documentary, “They Shall Not Grow Old,” is more than restore archival film; he has restored the humanity of men caught up in one of history’s great cataclysms. This is an aesthetic achievement of the highest order, and great service to history.

World War I has always had more than it’s share of historiography, novels, poems, and feature films. Until now what it lacked was video (at least watchable video), the single most powerful medium of the modern era.

It took Jackson and his team five years to make They Shall Never Grow Old. They had to painstakingly remove scratches and other damage from old film belonging to the Imperial War Museum, and slow down the primitive footage. Then it was colorized, with loving accuracy. Forensic lip-readers recovered what soldiers were saying on the film, and actors provided the voices. Finally, it was made 3-D.

The effect is to transform the men originally caught on choppy black-and-white film to relatable, individual human beings, just like anyone else we watch on a screen today.

 

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