They Shall Not Grow Old Review: Peter Jackson puts a revolutionary spin on showcasing one of the world’s biggest conflicts
Many who know legendary director Peter Jackson would likely associate him with creating some of the most amazingly epic adventures to a little place called Mordor or maybe even associate him with creating some of the best cult films of the zombie genre. Now, though, many should start to see him as an excellent documentary director as his new film, They Shall Not Grow Old, is an incredible leap for documentary filmmaking as a whole.
The film takes an in-depth look at the personalities and life of English soldiers during World War I, but Jackson puts a small twist on this. Rather than just show the archived footage and cut to a couple historians or “experts” to talk more about the war, Jackson uses both archived interviews from the soldiers, themselves, to guide the story and colorizes the old footage to give viewers a fresh way to see World War I.
What’s so great about Jackson’s use of only the soldier’s thoughts on the war is that it allows their story to be told without cutting to some historian and ruining the momentum of their journey. Not to mention, it also allows to have more than one subject to share their experiences and give a more rounded view rather than just give one person’s experience.
One of things I found to be incredibly interesting about the men in film was at the start of their journey with how they felt that they had to call to action when it was announced that England was going to war. Typically, war is something that people fear and wouldn’t want to be a part of, but the opening of the film paints a much more prideful and positive spin on these men going to war. There’s a strong emphasis on the men discussing how when seeing flyers about the war beginning, they felt that they wanted to defend their country and most of them even lied about their age to do so. It’s fascinating to hear this come from those who actually came from the war and that this was such a unified opinion.
It’s also worth mentioning that Jackson also has made this film to be in 3-D and instead of it coming off as a cheap addition, it’s actually used in an interesting way for the first and third acts of the film. Rather than having things pop out at you like many would expect with a 3-D film, Jackson instead has his viewers look deeper into the film by having the square framing from the old film act as a window for viewers to look deeper into. It’s an effect that many wouldn’t realize that first, but when you do, you grow a deep appreciation for it.
The most effective aspect of They Shall Not Grow Old, though, has to be how Jackson has added color to these soldiers’ story and how it makes it this depiction of WWI much more gripping and realistic than ever before. When the film changes to color as the soldiers go to war, it’s literally breathtaking and it allow the color to brighten the smiles and more light-hearted moments the soldiers discuss as well as the bloodshed and more disturbing moments they endure. Oddly enough, even though I’ve seen gruesome photos of trench foot and the bloodshed that happened in WWI, seeing it in color somehow leaves much more of an impact on me. It’s hard to say why, but I think this is what Jackson had intended and, whether or not that’s the case, it leads to a film that captures haunting imagery in an incredibly effective way.
Jackson truly captures a special kind of magic with They Shall Not Grow Old and bottles it up in a film that showcases one of the world’s most well-known conflict in a fresh way. The film has legitimately breathtaking moments and his innovations with the old footage and audio will undoubtedly change the game on how stories like this can be told.