Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released in the UK on November 9, 2018 and in the US on December 17, 2018
Directed by Peter Jackson
Produced by Peter Jackson and Clare Olssen
Featuring: research of 600 hours of interviews and 100 hours of original film footage, archival audio from 120 servicemen who fought during the war, and sound effects taken from actual equipment and artillery used during WWI.
It was only recently that I’d first heard about the film They Shall Not Grow Old, and all I knew was that it was a documentary about World War II, spotlighting England’s involvement in the war by using old film footage that had been cleaned up and colorized, and that it was made by Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson. From a historical standpoint I was intrigued, and decided it might be fun to see it on the big screen, especially since I had a free pass at my disposal.
Well, I saw it last night, and with what seems to be happening more often than I’d like to admit, I goofed up a few of the film’s details. As I discovered a few minutes in, the documentary was not about the second world war, but the first, and the footage was not colorized, nor had it been cleaned up or restored. Well, I botched those last two points as well, because shortly into the movie, after watching a build-up to England’s involvement with scenes of recruitment and training, the filmmakers abruptly shifted the film quality from aged to restored, and from black-and-white to color.
The sudden switch was a shocker, to say the least. It was amazing what Jackson and his team had done, taking grainy, damaged footage shot over one hundred years ago, in less-than-stellar conditions with simple hand-wound cameras, and turning it into something new and vibrant, as if photographed just recently. The film centered on one aspect of the war, the British and the Germans fighting along the Western Front in Belgium and France, and all of the film’s action took place on the ground—on the battlefields and in the trenches—with nary a battleship or airplane in sight.
Jackson chose to spend a good portion of the documentary concentrating more on the soldiers’ stories than the battles, and he used interviews with actual servicemen of the war (recorded by the BBC decades ago) to detail and enhance the images and activities taking place on-screen. From what Jackson stated at the beginning of the film, it took four years to complete this documentary, and I can see why; the care and research involved was exceptional. Jackson even used WWI uniforms and equipment from his private collection to ensure that colors and incidental sounds were authentic.
For someone who knows very little about World War I, this was not only a visual experience for me but an educational one as well. At my screening, the film was followed by a restoration documentary hosted by Jackson; after seeing the black-and-white footage post-restoration, and before it was clipped for widescreen presentation, a part of me wished that it had stayed that way; I think it looked better, and sharper, and more real than in color. But that’s just me: this was still a fantastic and mesmerizing cinematic achievement, and is definitely worth checking out. (8/10)