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Peter Jackson
Writing Credits:

A documentary about World War I with never-before-seen footage to commemorate the centennial of the end of the war.

Rated R.

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English Descriptive Audio
Latin Spanish
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 87 min.
Price: $24.99
Release Date: 5/7/2019

• “The Making of They Shall Not Grow Old” Featurette


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They Shall Not Grow Old [Blu-Ray] (2018)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 4, 2019)

To mark the 100th anniversary of the conclusion of World War I, director Peter Jackson made 2018’s They Shall Not Grow Old. The documentary views the conflict from the UK point of view via material created in the 1910s.

We follow UK soldiers from the war’s start until its conclusion. Jackson eschews a traditional narrator and instead uses the voices of WWI veterans themselves to tell their stories.

In addition, Jackson uses modern technology to update the material. Old colorizes the black and white footage and also adds music and sound effects to accentuate the images.

Voice actors appear occasionally to speak the words uttered by the soldiers. Jackson used lip readers to decode what the men actually said and hired vocal performers to bring these comments to us.

In terms of the history conveyed in Old, I'd give it an "A". The interviews with the former soldiers were excellent and conveyed a great impression of their lives during war and the toll the battles took.

In terms of a visual presentation, though, I'd give Old a "D". I hated hated hated hated hated the colorization used - it looked consistently unrealistic and became a distraction.

People talk about how much colorization has improved over the years. Yeah, I guess it's better than in the 80s Ted Turner days, but the hues still don't look vaguely realistic. Mostly we get a smeary sense of brown and green, with no tones that seem true to life.

Honestly, the colorization becomes an active distraction for me. I find it harder to invest in the stories because the colorized visuals look so ugly.

It didn't help that various artifacts came along for the ride. Those often made faces look computer generated and simply odd.

As I watched the film, I thought maybe that's just the best they could do with the source, colorization or not. Then I watched the post-film documentary and saw how the footage looked in its restored black and white state.

That material looked amazing, as the B&W shots shown during the doc were tight as a drum and really brought the material to life. I'd love a B&W version of the film, as it'd look so much better without the terrible fake color in the mix.

Also, I dislike the added sound. All the phony elements - the looped dialogue, the effects - fail to connect to the material. It all feels "canned" and fake, so these components make it even tougher for me to invest in the project.

This all seems ironic. Jackson uses the colorization, sound effects and dialogue to bring history to life, but all it does it detach me from the human stories.

If Old offered restored black and white footage and used audio that consisted solely of the soldiers' memories plus gentle score, I'd have loved it. Unfortunately, all the technological gimmicks alienated me from the basic information and material, a factor that meant I liked the film much less than I should.

The Disc Grades: Picture B-/ Audio B+/ Bonus B-

They Shall Not Grow Old appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc – mostly. During the opening, the image slowly expanded from 1.37:1 to 1.85:1, and then from 3:45 to 25:25, we got windowboxed 1.37:1 material. At 1:26:52, the image reverted to 1.37:1 again for post-war information.

The 1.37:1 footage didn’t undergo restoration. Director Peter Jackson chose to contrast the pre-and-post war shots with the combat scenes, so he only cleaned up the latter.

As noted in the body of the review, I disliked the work done to the film, as the colorization and grain removal left the footage with a weird, artificial appearance. That said, the disc reproduced the image as intended.

Sharpness varied and the image usually came across as somewhat soft. At times it could muster good accuracy, but a lot of the film felt mushy.

No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and I saw no edge haloes. Due to noise reduction, what little grain we saw tended to seem “frozen”, which became a distraction.

Outside of the unrestored material, print flaws remained absent. However, lots of technical artifacts made this an strange “digital-looking” presentation.

Some shots of art and magazines exhibited vivid hues, but the colorized film footage veered heavily brown and green – and unnatural brown and green. The tones felt true to their phony roots.

Blacks were fairly dense, and shadows seemed decent. I gave the image a “B-“ out of respect for the fact that it represented the source, but I thought this was an awfully unappealing presentation.

Like I mentioned in my review, I felt dissatisfied with the sonic choices, but at least the film’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack worked better than the visuals in an objective sense. Most of the 5.1 material emerged during the combat scenes, so expect a low-key soundscape through the pre/post-war shots.

When we hit the battlefield, the mix opened up with a lot of battle information. These used the five channels for explosions, gunfire and other elements. While I thought these failed to mesh with the century-old visuals, the soundfield still managed to create a broad, involving sense of the action.

Audio quality worked well, as music seemed full and lush. Effects appeared accurate and dynamic, with resonant bass when necessary.

Because all the speech came from old recordings of veterans, those components could seem a bit dodgy at times. Nonetheless, dialogue was always easily intelligible and usually fairly natural. Objectively, the mix worked nicely.

A program that ran after theatrical screenings of the film, The Making of They Shall Not Grow Old runs 29 minutes, 40 seconds. It features comments from director Peter Jackson.

He tells us about the many technical challenges and choices that went into the production. It’s too bad Jackson doesn’t offer a full commentary, but “Making” works as a good substitute.

As a history lesson, They Shall Not Grow Old offers excellent information. Unfortunately, the misguided attempts to modernize the film footage make it much less effective than it should be. The Blu-ray comes with erratic visuals as well as well-rendered audio and a good featurette. Old comes with more than enough historical merit to earn my recommendation, but I really wish we got a version without the “upgrades”.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.75 Stars Number of Votes: 4
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