“They Shall Not Grow Old”
Directed by Peter Jackson
Tasked by the Imperial War Museum to make a film that honors the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War (aka The Great War), a day recognized as Armistice Day in Europe, Peter Jackson has done something…well…incredible. Using modern technology, and creating some new tech along the way, he and his crew have taken hundreds of hours of the old silent footage from that conflict, the same ones we’ve seen a million times, cleaned them up, brightened them, and most importantly, slowed them down to 24 frames per second. He’s also lovingly colored them, zoomed in to give them more focus, added the background sounds of war, and looped in VO whenever someone on screen is speaking. The result is nothing short of miraculous! It is not a word I use often, but if anything in cinema can be called that, this is it. I’ve seen the film twice. Once flat, and then a couple weeks later in 3D. Both times, the moment the screen goes from what we’ve seen for years to the new, my jaw dropped, and hung there for at least five minutes. Keep in mind, I KNEW it was coming the second time and I still said “Oh my god!” out loud…as did most everyone else in the theater.
About that 3D…like Wim Wenders 2011 Oscar nominated documentary, the amazing “Pina” (which was only meant to be seen in 3D), or Cuaron’s “Gravity”, in which the 3D aspect is practically a character, this is a film that absolutely improves with the current 3D cinema technology. When you are witnessing something in a cinema for the very first time…or something as astonishing as this…depth plays a vital role.
Accompanying the footage are continuous audio comments taken from the hours of interviews with WWI veterans form the U.K. that the Museum has held in its archives. That may sound maudlin, but as most of these interviews were are from the sixties or seventies, we’re privy to these gentlemen’s reminiscences, not a dramatic re-experiencing. And, as they are indeed English, it’s all very civil…funny even. The effect is that the film never gets bogged down in emotional rhetoric, which you might understandably think it would.
The courage represented in both the footage and the manner in which the men recall their time in the muck is inspiring and you walk away feeling like you’ve seen something you thought you knew all about for the very first time. But, perhaps more importantly, you will begin to think of that conflict as something relatable, instead of a mere collection of the herky-jerky, flickering and silent images we’ve come to think of. I’d like to think that will be the lasting legacy of this film…or, even better…that it sparks a new way of teaching about the conflict.
But my guess is that what Jackson has accomplished here, technically, will change the way we look at the filmed world prior to the late-twenties, forever. That’s something.
I hope you have the opportunity to see this lovingly crafted document in a theater. It’s been playing wide for some time, and in 3D in most areas. You will be astonished.
Written on 2/18/2019