If you first became acquainted with Peter Jackson’s work through ‘The Lord of the Rings or any of the often epic tales he’s brought to the screen since, you may not fully appreciate just how odd a choice he was to bring J.R.R. Tolkein’s beloved fantasy saga to the screen. In fact, the closest contemporary parallel might be the pairing of James Gunn with ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’. When he was tapped for the Tolkein job, Jackson’s most mainstream work had been either ‘Heavenly Creatures’ (which introduced the world to Kate Winslet) or the 1996 Michael J. Fox vehicle ‘The Frighteners’, but his directorial resume was still largely defined by splatter films so over the top they made ‘Evil Dead’-era Sam Raimi look restrained.
Those early horror movies offer a fascinating look at the development of a unique voice in the film world and are a rollicking good time to boot. All that is to say that they’re absolutely worth a look… if you can find them. You see, while they did make their way to both VHS and DVD, those releases are long out of print, and Jackson’s earliest work has to date been absent from Blu-ray and other high definition formats. But that may finally be changing.
For his latest effort, a documentary commemorating the one hundredth anniversary of the end of World War I dubbed ‘They Shall Not Grow Old’, Jackson and his team has restored and enhanced over a hundred hours of century-old film from the archives of Britain’s Imperial War Museum. As described by Guardian critic Peter Bradshaw, ‘They Shall Not Grow Old’ represents “an immersive deep dive into what it was like for ordinary British soldiers on the western front… using state-of-the-art digital technology to restore flickery old black-and-white archive footage of the servicemen’s life in training and in the trenches. He has colourised it, sharpened it, put it in 3D and, as well as using diaries and letters for narrative voiceover, he has used lip-readers to help dub in what the men are actually saying.”
Now, while Jackson’s splatter films don’t need a once over from a lip reader, they could certainly do with a fresh coat of paint. And, it seems, all that work on ‘They Shall Not Grow Old’ has helped turn Jackson’s mind toward the prospect of giving his early work the restoration is so deserves. As he explained to Entertainment Weekly:
“I’ve decided to go back and do this to my old films – the first four I made, which I own but never re-released. I’ve done some tests on ‘Braindead’, where we took the 16mm negative and put it through our World War I restoration pipeline – and shit, it looks fantastic!”
But while ‘Braindead’ (aka ‘Dead Alive’) would certainly be a sight to behold in HD, it’s Jackson’s first film, ‘Bad Taste’, that the director expects will benefit the most:
“I knew it was a precious thing, but I didn’t have anywhere to put it, so I shoved it under my bed. Then when I finally got the funding to do the finished ‘Bad Taste’ film, there was damp mold and mildew all through the bloody neg, and you can sort of see it in some shots. So I’m looking forward to tidying that up! Even if it’s just removing the mold from ‘Bad Taste’, that will be a very good thing to do!”
Jackson further teased that this might finally lead to a hi-def release of these early films, perhaps as Jackson further teased that this might finally lead to a hi-def release of these early films, perhaps as “a nice little box set – the early years!t – the early years! The naughty years!” Such a set would be a real treat for film fans, not only including the aforementioned splatter films (‘Bad Taste’ and “Braindead’/’Dead Alive’) but also Jackson’s anti-Muppet puppet opus ‘Meet the Feebles’, taking viewers through the most transgressive period in his career before concluding with the Oscar-nominated ‘Heavenly Creatures’. When might we actually see the fruits of this project? Who knows, but the fact that this is even being talked about is cause for celebration.
Be sure to check back with ScienceFiction.com for more information on these remasters as it becomes available!