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Peter Jackson fuses old footage with lip-reading tech­nology to bring WWI to life. | DeviantArt

“They Shall Not Grow Old” opens with black and white reels of young, British sol­diers heading off to war, overlain with upbeat whistling and audio inter­views of World War I vet­erans. Slowly, unbe­lievably, the footage expands and trans­forms into an immersive world of col­orized film. The audience is trans­ported into the daily life of a British infantryman in the trenches of France.

As modern Amer­icans looking at the world wars of the 20th Century, we’re more familiar with World War II. It’s closer to our own time, and many of us have rel­a­tives who fought in it or, at least rel­a­tives who were old enough to remember it. We tend to be less aware, however, of the Great War: It tends to be eclipsed by the Allies’ struggle against the threat of the Third Reich.

The aim of Peter Jackson’s passion project, “They Shall Not Grow Old” is to address this lack of under­standing regarding World War I. The film pulls the audience into the era of con­flict between the European powers of the 1910s. Jackson, whose grand­father fought in the war, has created a rev­o­lu­tionary doc­u­mentary which fuses original footage of the war with cutting-edge tech­nology.

Jackson’s team cleaned up the old footage — which, by this point, were damaged copies of copies — and painstak­ingly colored each detail of every frame used in the doc­u­mentary. He also brought in sound tech­ni­cians to record back­ground sound effects which match the footage. If this wasn’t amazing in its own right, he also used pro­fes­sional lip-readers and voice actors to identify and record the words of sol­diers in the scenes, words which were hereto unknown.

In this first-of-its-kind film, Jackson allows the audience to actually hear and see the stories of British sol­diers in their own words. No longer are these black and white young men silent — they speak directly to us, urging us to under­stand what exactly hap­pened in those trenches.

“They Shall Not Grow Old” is truly eye-opening, but it requires us to see the utter horrors these men faced. Jackson presents the audience with the harsh real­ities of lit­erally living in the dirt of the trenches: The men put up with ter­rible con­di­tions which they describe for the viewer, con­di­tions that can be dif­ficult for modern viewers to fully grasp.

But the hardest scenes to watch are not the ones with live footage; cam­eramen didn’t capture video footage of the charges over “no-man’s land,” but the still images of the aftermath are gut-wrenching, nonetheless.

In a bril­liant yet tragic scene, Jackson alter­nates between close-up photos of the sol­diers before battles, only to sud­denly cut to full-color images of muti­lated corpses, lying in the des­olate wasteland that was war-torn France.

We see footage of sol­diers as they wait to rush over a hill to charge the German front lines. Paired with the added voices, we not only see but feel the humanity of that moment — the faces, the eyes of these young men betray their real­ization that they are moments from running headlong into a hell on earth.

“They Shall Not Grow Old” carries the modern audience back into a dif­ferent time, and almost a dif­ferent world. The men who forsook the com­forts of home say they were simply upholding the duty they owed to their nation. It’s important that we don’t forget the price they paid, as we read in the words of poet Lau­rence Binyon: “They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:/Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn./At the going down of the sun and in the morning/We will remember them.”