Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Web Secret 595: They shall not grow old

Every now and then art and technology converge to create something sublime.

Such is the documentary "They shall not grow old."

To pay homage to his grand-father, Peter Jackson, of Lord of the Rings fame, created a documentary about the World War I experience from the British soldier's point of view. He used archival film footage from the Imperial War Museum and interviews of British servicemen who fought in the conflict.

And then he did three remarkable things:

1. He had expert lip readers look at the soundless footage and reconstruct what they were saying. Then had actors dub in the voices.
2. He used state of the art techniques to restore the old silent films so that they run smoothly instead of herky-jerky.
3. And he used state of the art colorization technology to transform the footage from black and white to color.

When you watch the film, it at first runs like a typical black and white silent movie. As soon as the servicemen go to war, the footage transforms into color, and there is sound.

The effect is astonishing, reminiscent of when Dorothy opens the door of her house to enter the colored Land of Oz.

But more importantly, it makes the men seem very real, very present, in a way we have never seen. World War I is no longer a long time ago, in a world far away. We see that these were actual people who fought and died. We could have been them.

Lastly, this has the effect of deromanticizing the experience of war. These men don't look like movie stars. They have bad teeth and bad skin. They are dirty. They die. Their horses die. When the armistice is announced, they do not cheer or celebrate. They just go home. Quietly.

Hard to watch. A masterpiece.

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