Rob Reviews "They Shall Not Grow Old"
With “They Shall Not Grow Old,” modern-day legend Peter Jackson undertook a huge project that most would shy away from. Focusing on the British Army during World War I, he and his effects team from Wingnut, went through over six hundred hours of interviews with over two hundred soldiers and over one hundred hours of original footage from the 1910s (most of which had never been seen as it had been siting in the vaults of London’s Imperial War Museum) to construct a “slice of life” documentary chronicling the story of these brave (and mostly young) men as they enlisted, trained, and went off to battle, over a million of which would never come home.
By filling in gaps in the frames to match the twenty-four frames-per-second speed of modern cinema, matching up audio to it, using the interviews with the veterans as narration and even colorizing the time span spent on the battlefront (in 3-D nonetheless) for about an hour and forty minutes, this is a tale that looks deep into the things that the press back then did not want to show. There are graphic scenes of the horrors of war seen through the eyes of what are technically children, and the care put into the restoration of this footage by Jackson (who did not take a fee for this film) and his team is nothing short of breathtaking. While the film is in black and white in both the beginning and end, it is framed in a way that made me feel I was watching through a View Master that some may find distracting, but I found beautiful and poignant, as if to show the narrow world view these young men had and as it expanded to the full screen and color when they arrive to fight in the trenches, so did their experiences. Burned into their memories just as they became burned into mine, there are no punches pulled as the men deal with life in the elements, bombings, gas, artillery shells, and all of the consequences of the decisions made by men in suits thousands of miles away. Even as they take German prisoners, seeing the humanity between both sides showed that even in times of war humans can understand the conditions they are put in.
There is something to be said of how important a film is in its homeland when copies of it are sent to schools all over the United Kingdom the day it premiered at the 2018 London Film Festival with Prince William in attendance. Getting such an early release in the year worries me a bit, but I hope it makes such a lasting impression to audiences worldwide that “They Shall Not Grow Old” will resonate at the end of the year when ballots are cast as well.