Peter Jackson goes to the true Middle Earth, which is not that imaginary world of the master J. R. R. Tolkien, but to the battlefields of the First World War. After that unequal odyssey of successes (the trilogy of "The Lord of the Rings") and failures (the triptych of "The Hobbit"), the director has decided that the stark reality of the battles is not in the epic tale of the Abyss of Helm, but in the trenches where millions of young people died between 1914 and 1918. The Imperial War Museum in London proposed four years ago to embark on a project to commemorate the armistice of this war. He accepted the challenge they proposed and the result is an impressive documentary: "They Shall Not Grow Old" (They will not get old), which has recovered the voice and images of hundreds of fighters.
The tape begins with that orderly and applauded parade of the soldiers who are heading to the conflict, but immediately it becomes a singular trip to that end of the night that is the war. Peter Jackson, whose father participated in this contest in the uniform of the British army, has restored more than a hundred hours of real recordings to show the viewer how that willing infantry rested and died. Teach what they ate, what they lived, the bonds of camaraderie that they locked, the bedrooms where they rested between one assault and the next and even the privacy of the latrines where they evacuated. But, also, and, above all, the reality that accompanies the battles: the pain, the blood, the wounds, the horror of the mutilations, the explosions, the suffering, the destruction, the barbarism and the loss of the innocence that is read in the eyes and the smiles of the young people who went there with dreams of glory in their imagination to run into the cruelty and devastation of modern warfare.
Instead of going to a voice in "off" or a conventional narrator, Peter Jackson has come to the testimony of witnesses. He has recovered the oral recordings, made between the sixties and seventies, of the survivors. A few aged voices, which contrast with the youthful aspect of the squads that appear on the screen, and who begin their story by confessing how old they were when they answered the call of the nation or were enlisted: "I was fifteen years old", "I, sixteen," "I went with seventeen." In the hesitations of their narrations, they can see the trauma they experienced and the physical, emotional and psychological sequelae they dragged during the rest of their lives. Even experts have gone to read the lips to know what the soldiers said in the frames and remove their comments and words from oblivion.
But the great contribution of Peter Jackson has been the restoration of the images. A technological filigree that has taken, from under that deteriorated and dusty footage, the protagonists who participated in the confrontation. Most of this graphic document comes from the so-called West Front, and, especially, from the material shot between August 7 and 23, 1914, a few days of enormous violence that left a high number of deaths and injuries among the ranks of the armies.
Peter Jackson has managed, after a patient restoration, to remove the grain from the film and restore its original splendor. Then he proceeded to introduce frames to have the natural movement of today's cinematography and, after consulting with historians and experts, he has colored (with enormous realism and plausibility) the film. The result is moving: the images, more than a historical document, seem to have been recorded yesterday without any falsehoods or impositions. Jackson can now attribute, better than ever, the comment of that soldier of the Great War who declared: "There was a job to do and we did it."