By Kathy Flynn
They Shall Not Grow Old is an extraordinary documentary on World War I created using original footage from the Imperial War Musuem's archives along with interviews of British servicemen who fought in the conflict.
Director Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Heavenly Creatures) was commissioned in 2014 to create the project to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day (November 11, 2018). His crew reviewed over 100 hours of original film footage from the Imperial War Museum, and made the decision to eschew traditional narration in favor of using the soldiers own words, eventually piecing together a more personal look at the war using audio excerpts from 120 survivors. Jackson even went so far as to employ lip-readers to restore conversations happening on screen using voice actors.
The footage was painstakingly restored, with the hand-cranked footage retimed from 13 fps to the standard 24 fps. The footage was then colorized and converted to 3D, which on the surface sounds rather gimmicky, but in actuality creates a horrifying sense of immediacy...it feels like you are right there in the trenches next to them at times.
The film is a technological masterpiece, but it's not without its flaws. Sometimes the footage appears too smoothed out, giving an eerie "uncanny valley" look to soldiers long dead. But on the whole, Jackson has created a film that looks remarkably fresh and vibrant.
Instead of a dull history lesson full of dates and places, Jackson's narrative follows a regiment of British soldiers from the initial enthusiasm of enlistment through training, deployment and ultimately, death and despair. It brings the horror of war to a personal level, making the large-scale violence all the more appalling. It helps to have a strong stomach as you will find yourself looking at numerous dead bodies, and a few dead horses, all resurrected and restored in 3D clarity. The film is graphic and brutal and heartbreaking as it illustrates the banality of war, but most importantly, it is a compelling look at the humanity behind the history.