“They Shall Not Grow Old” is a film you won’t soon forget. It’s a film that showcases what the medium is capable of in the hands of talented, visionary people. It’s a stunning achievement.
At its core, “They Shall Not Grow Old” is a WWI documentary directed by Peter Jackson. On the surface, it doesn’t sound like much. Perhaps it sounds like niche documentary that would only appeal to historians and WWI buffs. But it’s much more — so much more.
Jackson has found never-before-seen footage of British soldiers in London archives. Now, we’re all used to seeing old-timey film footage. It’s all black and white, the speed is three to four times faster than real life and it just doesn’t look real. All the footage from back then seems almost fictional, because it isn’t portrayed in a visual way that makes sense to our minds.
Enter Jackson and his restoration crew. What they do with this archival footage is nothing short of astounding. They restore the video, colorize it and slow it down. Suddenly, we become connected to these men. Once the video resembles what we understand to be the world around us it becomes so much more intimate.
In the old footage, it’s almost impossible to see the slight facial expressions, the dread and depression in the soldiers’ eyes. After the restoration, these men become real human beings. The amount of emotion you’re able to extract visually from their faces gives you insight into what the war was like.
During the movie, Jackson uses voice-over interviews from British WWI vets who describe the abominable conditions and horrific battlefields they encountered every day. The interviews, coupled with the newly restored footage, creates a documentary unlike I’ve ever seen. What an achievement.
What stood out most was even though these men were faced with death every day – literally walking over their dead comrades on the ground – they smiled and laughed a lot. This is something that the old footage would really capture, but with the new footage we’re able to see how these poor men cope with the unimaginable horrors surrounding them.
Laughing in the face of death seemed to be the theme. Something’s got to keep you entertained. If you’re faced with a certain death almost every day, why not have a few laughs, right? Perhaps they were so hardened to the world around them that the idea of death never affected them the same way it would us.
Wow, what an experience this movie is! Even the 3D is integral to enjoying it. It’s the best use of 3D technology that’s ever been put on the big screen.
You’ll have to travel to Salt Lake to see this film, which opens wide this weekend. Believe me, it’s worth it.