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THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD (2018) review

December 19, 2018

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produced by: Peter Jackson & Clare Olssen
directed by: Peter Jackson
rated: R (for disturbing war images)
runtime: 99 min.
U.S. release date: December 17, 2018 & December 27, 2018 (Fathom Events in 2D & 3D)

 

“It was not very dangerous, a sort of out of doors camping holiday with the boys with a slight spice of danger to make it interesting.”

 

In 2014, right around the time he was finishing up his Hobbit trilogy, Peter Jackson was approached by a group of historians, including the BBC, with a proposal to create a World War I documentary in time for the 100th anniversary of the Armistice in 2018. Sliding in just under the wire, Jackson’s finished product “They Shall Not Grow Old”, is a wonderful meditation on a time, place, and scenario most of us know nothing about.

More importantly, Jackson has brought these old films to life in a stunning way, transferring hundred year old footage to a digital source where it could be brought back to vivid life. Colorized and presented in 3D, this is as immersive a documentary comprised solely of footage shot a century ago as one can imagine. Jackson goes micro here, shirking the tendency in war docs to go macro, and presents a film brimming with immediacy.

 

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Jackson allows the footage and interviews recorded with British veterans by the BBC in the early 60s to tell the story—aided by some vintage illustrations in one powerful extended account of a rather bloody battle. Embedding you with these young men is a stroke of genius, conveying the excitement, terror, and humanity of which war stories are so often devoid. This isn’t totally surprising from a director as interested in character as Jackson, but it’s refreshing that this tendency can shine through in his non-fiction work.

The film gives you no sense or scope of the war itself, so history buffs looking for a lesson in one of the least talked about wars are sure to end up disappointed. Those looking to see war, any war really, through the eyes of the young men sent to fight in it, however, are guaranteed an edifying and enlightening experience.

 

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The thing that lingers with you long after “They Shall Not Grow Old” though are the faces of these young men, our ancestors. Little did any of them know that this footage captured of them well over 100 years ago would be given new life like this. As one soldier fumbles with a bottle—playing off his dropping it by pretending to strum it like a guitar—his humanity burns itself into your memory. As another struggles to shave in a trench with a crummy army issued razor, you can both sympathize and empathize with his plight.

For once, the casualties of war feel like real people and not just faded figures in a worn photograph. If this is Jackson’s best special effect yet brought to screen, it’s through no small effort on his part. The film is a technical marvel, but you never feel overwhelmed by that fact while you’re watching it. It’s only later that you think about the absolute magnitude of what he has achieved. Not only shall the soldiers of “They Shall Not Grow Old” never do as the title suggests, nor shall they die thanks to the efforts of Jackson and his team of real life wizards.

 

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RATING: ****

 

 

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