First-hand WWI accounts ensure ‘They Shall Not Grow Old’

by Christian Ramos on February 1, 2019

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Rating: Rock Fist Way Up] 

The 100th anniversary of the ending of The Great War, WWI, commenced last year with celebrations and memorials around the world. Even right here in Kansas City, the World War I Museum and Liberty Memorial illuminated its walls with the images of poppies to honor the fallen soldiers of what was called “The War to End All Wars”.

In December of 2018, Fathom Events took hold of director Peter Jackson’s latest project, a WWI documentary They Shall Not Grow Old and showed it in theaters for two days only. With nationwide acclaim and demand for more viewings, this film has now deservedly received a wide release in theaters, once more honoring the fallen memories of those who served in the war and, through the magic of Jackson and his team, early works of film over 100 years old have been brought back to life anew, colorized, cleaned up, and made to look as if we were seeing something made in this century. They Shall Not Grow Old is a groundbreaking documentary that war buffs and film buffs alike can not only enjoy together but marvel at the wonders of technology that brings these images to life.

Like the war itself, the plot to this film is unpredictable. Jackson states in the introduction to this film that going in, he had no idea what the film would be about. His only goal was using the footage from the Imperial War Museum’s vast collection of videos and voice recordings, and using it in his own way. He took this footage, filmed from the perspective of U.K. soldiers at home and abroad in No Man’s Land and turns it into a multi-perspective first-hand account.

In the end, one could say that Jackson made a thorough narrative of his own. Though the film doesn’t follow any particular individual or platoon, nor does it give any names to its near 100-plus narrators, it still creates a steady flow of action from enlisting in the war, traveling to France and fighting, and surviving on the western front. Though there are no names given out, certain soldiers are shown multiple times but just by their rankings and no more. Some of these men are later shown dead from action and these by all means are the most heartbreaking moments to ponder.

One of the most amazing aspects to the film is the care taken to the footage. The first 15 minutes or so is dedicated to black and white and silent, only the narration coming across and the aspect ratio smaller. Then, as the men arrive in No Man’s Land, somehow this footage is colorized and the aspect ratio expands like a curtain on a stage revealing the battlegrounds.

From then on, the action of the film is in Technicolor that was by no means a thing in the 1914 world. Yet somehow, Jackson does it and by adding in voiceovers to the footage in post-production, along with non-diegetic sounds of bombs, horses, the muffles of men, etc., there is a feeling of maybe this is all staged in one of the elaborate Lord of the Rings –type fashion. What we see on screen is 100 percent real. This film also has an option to see it in 3D and if given the chance, see it in 3D. The film has more depth (literally), as if you’re looking through a stereoscope and it’s wanting you to shake hands with these men to wish them luck.  

Jackson dedicates this documentary to his grandfather who fought in WWI and to the memories of millions of others. Overall, The Shall Not Grow Old is something you won’t find in your high-school textbooks. These are first-hand accounts only these men can tell you about. The narration of those who served, fought and survived the horrors of this war will forever live on in this groundbreaking documentary. Hopefully, Jackson understands now what he wanted to say in this story and cherishes the praise this film is receiving globally.

Christian Ramos is a recent graduate of KU with a B.A. in Film & Media Studies. When he’s not watching movies, he likes to brag about the pointless Oscar trivia he knows, remembers that time he dressed as Steven Spielberg for Halloween and shows off his tweet that Julianne Moore liked.

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