Three-time Academy Award-winning director Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings Trilogy) is a World War I buff that has a rather large collection of Items from ‘the war to end all wars.’ Jackson was asked by the Imperial War Museum in England to do a documentary on the war using the museum’s extensive collection of photographs, film and videos, and oral interviews. Jackson requested about ten minutes of footage to test if the latest technology could enhance the silent film footage from that time. Happy with the results, he decided to take on the challenge and boy, am I glad that he did. It became a passion project for Jackson as his own grandfather fought in the war.
The film concentrates on the soldiers of the British Empire at the Western Front and he and his team digitally restored over 100 hours of footage. There isn’t one narrator nor are there any dates on the screen. Instead, Jackson has taken audio with over 200 WWI vets who were interviewed in the 60s and 70s and lets the men that were there tell the story. The film is in 3D so you will need to see it in the theatre but even more remarkable is that 25 minutes into the movie, the black-and-white images come to life in glorious color making this film seem to come alive. Jackson also used a team of lip readers to get the actual dialogue the men were saying on the screen, so we hear them express what they were feeling on the screen. It makes the film seem almost surreal, getting to listen to voices from the past.
World War I lasted from 1914 to 1918, so the footage is over 100 years old. This was a young man’s war, in fact, some men who narrate the film admit that they lied about their age. There was supposed to be a minimum age of 18 to enlist. Many men tell the story where they tell the enlisting officers their real age and are then told to go outside and come back in older. Most of the men in the war were new to the military, so Jackson shows us the training that they went through before going to fight. We see the face of young men that are happy and enthused to be going to a war that many did not understand just why it was necessary. The sad thing is many of the men did not come back from the war as over a million men from the British Empire died in the war.
We follow the men to France where they were to remain until the war was over. We get to see every aspect of the men’s lives, what they did behind the lines both relaxing with their fellow soldiers or the hard work they had to do to keep supplies going to the front. The film shows us what it was like in the trenches, including how/what the men ate and how they slept. This up close and personal account makes you almost feel that you are right there with them.
The film does not back off the horrors of war. The horrible conditions that they had to live in; dealing with rats fattened on the dead, lice they couldn’t get rid of, water in the trenches sometimes reached their chest, the attacks of mustard gas that could blind you and of course dealing with the death of their comrades, some of which they had to literally walk on. We see in color dead men throughout the film, sometimes in very graphic detail and in color. This is a sobering film that shows you just how horrific war is. There is one portion of the film where we go with a group of soldiers who go on the attack and go all the way to the German trenches and fight hand to hand. It’s a powerful moment in the film as the veterans talk about the death of men right beside them or even their own moments when they got shot, I overheard one person say when leaving the film that ‘every politician should see this film.’
Not all the film is grim as it shows the camaraderie of the men both in the trenches and behind the lines. We see men trying to find just little things to enjoy or laugh about. Many times the film catches the men acting a bit goofy for the camera. My favorite scene is one where a group of men are playing instruments, and a young soldier is juggling a bottle. He drops the bottle, picks it up and begins strumming it like a guitar, smiling sheepishly at the camera.
Watching this film was moving and made me think about what these men went through, the horrors that they saw and lived with. Peter Jackson has done the impossible, make a film about a war 100 years ago come alive, feel real and riveting. ‘They Shall Not Grow Old’ is a fantastic work of art and needs to be seen on the big screen in all its glory.
They Shall Not Grow Old Review
My Rating: I Would Pay to See it Again
Mike’s Rating System from Best to Worst:
1). I Would Pay to See it Again
2). Full Price
3). Bargain Matinee
5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again