Peter Jackson has been involved in movie making since he was a child in New Zealand. He is credited with many major films, including some of the Hobbit series and several Lord of the Rings entries.
In this documentary film, he has poured much of his time over several years to produce a vivid depiction of war — its terror, its horror, its extensive death of human beings, as well as the destruction of everything from nature to structures. It is World War 1, 1914 to 1918.
Jackson starts this film with an introduction, telling us about the creation of They Shall Not Grow Old and the challenge of restraining it to reasonable length. He says the final product was about 100 hours long and it was changed to focus on one aspect of the conflict, the trench fighting by the British against the German army in Western France.
The remarkable aspect of the film is the reworking to make the action more credible and more realistic using cinematic and audio techniques, but without altering any facts.
Jackson used newsreels and various private reels that have been buried in archival storage for almost 100 years. He used this material to construct a film that recreates the time and events.
When England declared war on Germany, many thousands of young men were ready, willing and able to join the military to fight the oppressor. Even boys, too young to serve, lied about their age so they could get in on the historic activity. Many were successful in their deception, and many never lived to come home.
The major portion of They Shall Not Grow Old is the actual time in the fighting. Jackson has manipulated the old films in two ways. The film speed has been made slower to make the peoples’ motion more realistic. And a big plus in They Shall Not Grow Old is the addition of color to many of the battlefield and trench scenes.
We see a lot of scenes where the men are not fighting the Germans, but striving to keep going. There’s a shortage of food, water, sometimes clean air when the Germans dispense poison gas on the trenches. There are lots of scenes where the camera operator(s) are interviewing the soldiers and Jackson has managed to have a voice speak, from lipreading the silent images.
The archives that were used by Jackson also had several veterans of the affair who offer some narration. That adds immeasurable insight into how the troops deal with their experience. The noise from gunfire and cannon blasts is pervasive and often continuous through the night. All this, up to the point when the Germans surrender.
There are some screen notes after the film is ended. One of the notes says that 800,000 allied troops were killed and probably 1 million or so of the enemy.
Peter Jackson then appears on screen in an epilogue about the making of They Shall Not Grow Old and the decision of how to shorten it. He mentions a point that is very important about war but which is often overlooked — the casualties include the wounded, the disabled, the families of the dead and all mankind. That was not depicted in the film.
They Shall Not Grow Old is at Harkins Sedona 6 Theater.