Director: Peter Jackson
I have to hand it to Peter Jackson, They Shall Not Grow Old is quite the undertaking for anyone regardless of how talented they are. Going through all of these frames which are all about 100 years old and colorizing and updating them for modern audiences had to be an incredibly painstaking task that probably took months if not years to process. The end result is something incredible to look at that puts an era in time mostly forgotten or unrepresented back into the front of our minds. Technically powerful and deeply personal, They Shall Not Grow Old is as close to the gold standard of documentaries as one could possibly make.
The film documents the stories of hundreds of British soldiers as they go from young men trying to figure out life to soldiers on the front lines of the Western front of World War I. From their initial enlistment into the British military, to their training and suffering on the front lines, to the reception they received when they returned home, They Shall Not Grow Old intricately details every segment of these soldier’s lives as they go from scrawny, scared boys and transform into weary, war-torn men. The way that this movie has taken film and interviews from about 100 years ago and made it look like they were shot last week is truly a statement to just how impressive this undertaking is from Jackson. To go frame by frame and adding the correct updates to where it still looks authentic but truly places us in the scene makes They Shall Not Grow Old one of the most impressive documentaries I’ve ever seen. This is very clearly a passion project for Jackson considering he dedicated the film to his grandfather who fought in World War I and when a talented individual works on something they care about the end results are probably going to be something spectacular. While Jackson updated this war for modern audiences, it still manages to capture everything that made this war horrific to those who fought in it. If you are squeamish to the site of blood and dead bodies, this is not the movie for you as it goes to great lengths to show the true horrors that these men experienced. This is easily one of the most hauntingly graphic depictions of war I’ve ever seen and some of the images in this movie will probably stay with me for the rest of my life. Jackson has the modern documentary equivalent of All Quiet On the Western Front on his hands and this is the type of movie that could shape the minds of the masses if viewed at the right age. Seeing young men with their whole lives ahead of them reduced to a dismembered corpse in the trenches of France really puts things into perspective and can help you reevaluate what is important in life and the cost that these men paid for the freedoms we exercise today. It doesn’t matter if you’re British, American, Canadian, or any other nationality that fought with the allies in World War I, the sentiment can be felt internationally and Jackson has created something truly remarkable in They Shall Not Grow Old.
Overall, one of the things that stands out the most in They Shall Not Grow Old is a quote by one of the soldiers after he returned from the war. It’s something to the extent of, “We never talked about the war back home. It was never brought up in casual conversation.” Considering how much we know about World War II, this sentiment still appears to be true and highlights that some things really never change. Taking into account the real lack of modern film resources to study World War I, They Shall Not Grow Old is almost required viewing by anyone interested in the subject, but also so we never forget the sacrifice that these brave men made in the name of freedom.
Overall Score: 9/10