They Shall Not Grow Old

Dept. of Horrors Beyond Imagination


In 2018, Peter Jackson, along with the Imperial War Museum, set out to do the impossible. They Shall Not Grow Old is the result of that.

They Shall Not Grow Old is a documentary of the first World War, as told by those who lived through it, through footage and film that was shot during the four year war. The documentary starts off like any other historic piece – with old, grainy black and white footage, featuring first hand audio testimony from survivors recorded over the years by the BBC (a co-producer of the documentary). 

They Shall Not Grow Old begins at the outset of war and follows young recruits as they go through their drills and training before being shipped off to Belgium and the front lines. Watching this you get the sense that for a lot of these recruits, there was no way for them to know what lay ahead. They were, as Bilbo Baggins would put it, setting off on an adventure.

Many as young as 16 (the minimum age for the military was 19, but a lot of young boys either lied their way in, or were encouraged by their recruiting officers to do so), looked at this as a bit of fun. But as the young infantrymen got closer to the front lines in Belgium, the reality of war slowly started to sink in.

And then, at the 24-minute mark, Peter Jackson and his team do something absolutely jaw dropping. 

The small, grainy, black and white image starts to zoom in, and just as it fills the screen, so does the world of the Belgian front lines. Colours! The noise of infantrymen footsteps sloshing in the wet soil! The sound of horses neighing! All of this starts to fade in, and you suddenly feel enveloped in a world that we had always just seen in jangly, silent, grainy monochrome. This was the great war as they had seen it. In 4K clarity, in colour, and in surround sound.

This was the big selling point of They Shall Not Grow Old. That over the course of several years, Peter Jackson and his team had painstakingly brought back to life footage that was 100 years old. And to not only restore it to pristine quality, but to put colour, and accurate audio into it.

What’s more, seeing the war in high definition colour and audio, really drives home the true cost of it. That this wasn’t just a historic thing to be read about or seen in documentaries. These were real people living through hell. World War I was the first war that was caught on film. And what this documentary does, 100 years later, is bring the stark reality of that war into our homes.

There are many production aspects of the documentary that make it a jaw dropping watch. From recording audio of real World War I weapons, to lip readers interpreting the dialogue in the footage and then getting it read out by men from the different regions represented in the regiments, to the accurate colourisation of the uniforms and skin tones. 

The documentary also does a great job of showing a lot of the soldiers’ day-to-day. The infantrymen just sitting around between rounds on the front line. Singing and dancing. Playing and relaxing. But always with a knowing look in their eye that soon, they too will be sent forward. 

In They Shall Not Grow Old, Peter Jackson and his team were able to weave a true story of war. Of pain and drama. Of horror. By taking footage that’s been around for 100 years, by colourising it, by infusing it with sound, by creating drama. It sounds like a gimmick. But it was anything but. It was honest. It was necessary.

They Shall Not Grow Old is now streaming on Netflix.

They Shall Not Grow Old
99 minutes
Director: Peter Jackson
Producer: Clare Olssen and Peter Jackson

Bahir likes to review movies because he can watch them at special screenings and not have to interact with large groups of people who may not agree with his idea of what a movie going experience is. Bahir likes jazz, documentaries, Ken Burns, and summer blockbuster movies. He really hopes that the HBO MAX Green Lantern series will help the character be cool again. Also don’t get him started on Jason Momoa’s Aquaman (#NotMyArthurCurry).

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