In They Shall Not Grow Old, a WWI documentary directed by Peter Jackson to commemorate its 100 year end, it’s the work a day attitude of the British soldiers as archived on BBC audio records that stands out. For most of them it was a job; albeit it a grinding terrible one filled with blood, guts and mud that must be worked through, all of it punctured with longs bouts of boredom and occasional adrenaline moments. WWII was the war that would bring their stiff upper lips aquiver with the horrors of war.
The film is bookended with black and white footage, but the heart of They Shall Not Grow Old is the colorized battlefield middle filled with a historically accurate color palette, authentically reproduced weapon sounds and dialogue that recruited forensic lip readers to guarantee authenticity. Add the 3D processing and They Shall Not Grow Old obtains an immeasurable reality that no WWI documentary could ever achieve.
It is an engrossing experience for the first half until the grinding reality of this overextended global conflict inflicts the audience with the ennui of the weary soldier. Still the occasional poetry, heart breaking observation accumulate into an emotional experience filled with overwhelming nostalgia, grief and regret.
Peter Jackson’s great grandfather fought and was wounded in the great conflict so Jackson is forever striving to make They Shall Not Grow Old both a personal and personalized experience. The gentle ghosts of his and other British ancestors add the rueful universal element. It makes us grateful for all the children of the survivors.
Photos courtesy of Warner Brothers Pictures.