London Film Review: Peter Jackson’s ‘They Shall Not Grow Old’

“Filmed on location on the Western Front, 1914 to 1918” claims the very final credit of “They Shall Not Grow Old,” buried in small print once a veritable army of magic-working technicians’ names has scrolled. It’s a cute throwaway detail that nonetheless defines what’s special about Peter Jackson’s path-breaking First World War documentary, composed as it is entirely from once-murky archive film and audio testimony: So dazzlingly transformative is the restoration of this footage that it may as well be the product of a movie shoot.

Plundering the vast collection of Britain’s Imperial War Museum, Jackson has applied the same digital wizardry that he used to make a reality of Tolkien’s Middle Earth to make a reality of, well, another reality, one on the verge of vanishing: the collective experience of British soldiers on the front, from the gung-ho spirit of enlistment through to the hollowing exhaustion of PTSD. As over 100 battle-scarred survivors narrate proceedings from beyond the grave, a collection of scratched, century-old film once rendered visually inscrutable by wear and tear emerges from the digital chrysalis as pristinely tactile and alive, blown up into grand spectacle via sensitive colorization and 3D conversion.