First World War in colour: Peter Jackson brings old footage to life

Lord of the Rings director restored ‘hundreds of hours’ of original footage for upcoming documentary

They Shall Not Grow Old, First world war, soldiers,
An image from Peter Jackson’s new film
(Image credit: Imperial War Museum)

Film-maker Peter Jackson has injected colour into original black and white footage of the First World War in order to bring the soldiers’ “faces to life” for a new documentary.

The Lord of the Rings director used modern production techniques to restore around 100 hours of footage from the archives of the Imperial War Museum (IWM) in London. The results will be seen in his new 90-minute film They Shall Not Grow Old.

The “old and damaged film” was “immaculately restored and slowed down to a normal speed, bringing clarity to the War only previously seen by the infantrymen who saw it first hand”, says the ITV News site.

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Sky News adds that Jackson and his team have also “sharpened some of the footage” and corrected “the jitters that accompanied early, hand-cranked cameras”.

The Oscar-winning New Zealander was initially given just four minutes of black and white footage from the IWM, to see what he could achieve. The results proved far more successful than anyone had expected.

“It took me hugely by surprise,” Jackson told ITV News. “I had no way of knowing.”

The museum subsequently handed over hundreds of films, which he has worked on for the last four years.

Remastering the footage of soldiers “brought their faces to life”, he said.

“You didn’t really notice them when they were all sped up and jerky, but suddenly they just come into a focus,” he explained.

“Part of my fascination with the First World War is that it was a pointless war in that sense. Because it was a pointless war, it is all about the people who were in it. How did these people actually cope with this thing?

“Not one soldier on the Western Front, I guarantee you, not one soldier could sit down and really explain in political terms what was important about fighting the war, what was important about beating the Germans.”

The film “was commissioned by the Imperial War Museum and the 14-18 NOW project to commemorate the centenary of Armistice Day”, says Sky News.

They Shall Not Grow Old will be shown in schools across the country and screened in cinemas. It premieres next week at the BFI Film Festival in London.

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