“They Shall Not Grow Old” is a film-making marvel and a technological achievement. But much, much more than that: this movie is a tribute and a salute of honor to the many British soldiers who went off to fight in World War I. Many of these brave lads never returned, and ‘they shall not grow old’. Director Peter Jackson has taken actual movie footage from the historical era and transformed it to a documentary that explores the horrors of trench warfare. He has taken hundreds of hours of old footage, along with hundreds of hours of audio interviews – and with this raw material, he has created a fully immersive look at what the average ‘doughboy’ actually experienced at the Front. Working with The Imperial War Museum and the BBC, Jackson has taken and then digitized, colorized and did a 3-D conversion a whole lot of rough grainy badly-shot movie footage. The result is a very informative and in engaging peek into what happened over one hundred years ago.
The original movie cameras back at time produced some very poor quality footage. The film in the camera was over cranked, meaning the speed when projected back later was too fast and jerky. The film was not meant to last forever, so there are many places where it has faded and has accumulated dust particles. Even with this as a starting point, Peter Jackson has gotten some of the most talented film restoration and production people involved in restoring hours of film – frame by frame. His final result becomes a slow build up to the central part – the reconstructed view of the Front Line in World War I.
The beginning is shown in the overly fast-speed and poor quality images of London prior to WWI. When war comes, it is publicized in every way that England needs to fight to exist, and to keep Europe free. With the soundtrack repeating story after story of many under aged fellows getting into the service, it shows how they trained to be a fighting force. Soon, they are over in Belgium and France, and it is obvious that the bombing and shelling has taken a toll. At one point, the black and white image turns into a colorized version. The troops meet their new home in the trenches. They know there are German soldier only dozens of yards away. There is a deadly bog of twisted barbed wire and mines that make up a dreaded “No Man’s Land” between the two sides. Enemy snipers are always ready to take out a soldier who might peek over the side of the trench at the wrong time. There are massive bombardments of mortars and grenades, and these things make for an unpleasant place to be.
It is very odd to see images from over one hundred years ago with this level of sharpness and clarity. The extra added color in many of the scenes add to the depth of experience that you are watching recent newsreel footage. Some of the stories told by the men who served there are stark and full of vivid detail. Most of them contain terrible descriptions of the conditions and the results of the battles fought. Many people died, on both sides. The loss of life was staggering, but almost all the British soldiers did what they know how to do. They carried on. They ate and drank tea, and they would sing bawdy songs, such as “Mademoiselle from Armentières”. But mostly they fought in the “Great War”, because this was the “War to End All Wars”. Little did they know…
But just as the First World War came to an end, this movie also shows that the surviving troops returned home. They were greet as heroes, but promptly were forgotten. The world economy was in shambles, and unemployment was high. When the large influx of soldiers came back to England, there were not as many jobs there as when they left. But each of the men who served at the Front came back with a changed outlook on life. Each one knew at any time, the fragile thread of life could be snapped by the cruel hand of Death. They had seen that up close way too many times. Some retreated into a bottle to combat their own demons. Yet a majority of them stood up straight and became leaders and fathers and the backbone of British society.
Peter Jackson has dedicated this movie to Sgt. William Jackson, his grandfather who served in World War I. So it shows the depth of commitment that he had to make everything about this documentary something very special. He has accomplished this goal.
Per the press release, the producers note that this year marks the 100-year anniversary of the “Great War” coming to an end: