Incredible technology brings reality of war to life
Peter Jackson is renowned for bringing fiction to life on the big screen.
Incredible, fantastical, Oscar-winning works of fiction which transport the viewer to another world and time. Which makes his latest war film all the more remarkable.
In creating They Shall Not Grow Old, Jackson has not only stuck to history and fact, he personally trawled through hundreds of hours of World War I footage, finding forgotten moments and details from the 1914-1918 conflict, and allowing soldiers to tell their own stories.
Every frame of this film is real, taken during the Great War, and capturing young British men signing up to serve, being put through rigorous training, then their experiences on the Front Line.
Peter Jackson spent four years working with the team at London's Imperial War Museum, searching through 2000 pieces of WWI film, then transforming it to show us what life in the trenches was really like.
Using new film technology and production techniques, Jackson brought the blurry, grainy, sped up black and white vision to life. It was given colour, slowed down, sharpened and enhanced.
“We started restoring the footage first to see how good we could make it look and I was stunned and amazed,” Mr Jackson told 9NEWS.
“We did so much better than what we’d thought with all the computers we've got now.”
“And when it was restored, the humanity of these men jumps out of you, it really takes you by surprise - you’re not expecting it, and I thought well this story has to be about the men. It’s not a story about the first world war, it’s about these guys.”
The transformations are extremely powerful. In one scene, a grainy black and white table of soldiers having lunch on the battlefield is flooded with such colour and clarity you feel you could be right there at the table. In another, a group of men in uniform are enjoying a singalong, one of them with a toddler on his knee. In the restored, “real life” image, you can see every detail of their faces, the condition of their teeth and their uniforms. But more importantly, you get a sense of their personalities, and how they interacted as a group of mates.
Even the narration is authentic - spoken by the voices of more than 120 WW1 veterans, who were interviewed by the BBC in the early 60’s for a documentary series to mark 50 years since the Great War. Peter Jackson says he was determined to have real voices and real stories to go with the restored images.
Audio presented a challenge for the accomplished New Zealand film-maker, who brought in forensic lip readers to view silent films and reveal what soldiers were saying to one another and the camera. He had the NZ military fire WW1 guns, the sound of the barrage and explosions recorded and mixed to match and enhance the original battle scenes.
“I’m most proud of the fact I’ve made a movie which lets the people that were there fighting this war tell their own story,” Mr Jackson says. “They’re telling us what it was like, and it’s not what we think it was like.”
It’s been an enormous project too for Matt Lee, Head of Film at the Imperial War Museum and his team, and hugely significant in marking the Centenary year.
“It’s a really important landmark film that we hope will allow particularly younger audiences to engage more fully with the story of the first world war,” he told Nine News.
They Shall Not Grow Old will be screened in British High schools.
It premieres at the London Film Festival next week, after which Australian audiences will get the chance to have this incredible experience of World War One.