They Shall Not Grow Old

New Zealand director Peter Jackson has accomplished something of a miracle. At the behest of Britain’s Imperial War Museum, he and his team have created a documentary about World War I using archival footage—scratched, faded, juddery—and restored it nearly to today’s standards (trailer). The process achieves more than improving watchability, it brings these soldiers to life.

When he received the assignment, Jackson didn’t know what the film would be, his brief was simply to “do something creative” with the film archive in time for the 100th anniversary of the armistice last November 11.

He and his team melded the restored film with the voices of men who had served, interviewed by the BBC decades later. They went to war as ordinary soldiers, they were young (ages 15, 16, and 17, many of them), and their reminiscences of the war were quite different than what their officers’ would have been. This isn’t a movie with battle maps and arrows, strategy and tactics. It’s not about the unique or memorable incident. It’s everyday survival. Mud and lice and rats and cigarettes. I cried.

Stick around for the post-movie feature about how the film was restored. The before-and-after examples of changing the timing, fixing over- and under-exposures, how sound was added, and the colorization are fascinating. Their devotion to detail pays off. Speaking of paying off, the film has broken box office records for a documentary, and Jackson himself took no fee.

This isn’t a movie about heroes. It’s about everyday lads doing the best they can in the worst circumstances. In the most important sense, they’re all heroes.Rotten Tomatoes critics rating: 99%; audiences 92%.

3 thoughts on “They Shall Not Grow Old

  1. We tried to get into this movie twice. Finally, we managed seats in the front row because those were the last two left. This was an awesome movie, but what made it even better was Jackson’s half hour behind the scenes look. My grandfather was in WWI – just not on the right side. I was so impressed that he handled the German soldiers with such humanity. Wonderful film.

    • Maybe because my dad was an engineer, I always like to know “how things work.” So, at the beginning when Jackson gave a heads-up about the post-film documenting how they achieved their end product, I whispered to my husband, “I’m letting you know right now that I want to stay for that!” It added a lot, I agree.

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