Review of “They Shall Not Grow Old”


Sai Karnati '20

Before watching They Shall Not Grow Old, I hadn’t spent a ton of time watching World War I films. I had heard about the film in my history class. My teacher explained to the class that the film took old World War I footage and, with the help of modern computer graphics, added color and audio to the film in order to make the audience feel as if they are really on the battlefield. Taking a look at old, black and white film reels from World War I on YouTube, I didn’t believe there was any possible way that a film could restore footage from the war and turn it into something comparable to today’s films. I was wrong.

The film begins with an introduction from director Peter Jackson. Jackson details how the project first began—the London Imperial War Museum asked him to make a film commemorating the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day. Jackson, who is known for directing films such as The Lord of the Rings trilogy and King Kong, was happy to move in a new direction with They Shall Not Grow Old. Jackson passionately told audience members that this was one of his favorite projects to work on. He described his interest in World War I, and how he used to watch film reels from the war when he was a child. In fact, many of the film reels he watched as a child were restored and put into They Shall Not Grow Old.

After Jackson’s introduction, the film begins in Great Britain, where almost everyone wanted to enlist as a way to display national pride. Surprisingly, these portions of the film were kept in their original form. I was disappointed that this part of the film was not refurbished. However, once the soldiers reached the battlefield, the film made the switch to modern, colorized footage. It was worth the wait. It was stunning how parts of the environment such as the grass, mud, and sky stood out to you. Soldiers marched smoothly through the battlefield, giving no indication that this footage was taken almost a century ago. Jackson also made the decision to add audio and voices to soldiers in order to make the experience even more surreal.

Unlike other films, They Shall Not Grow Old doesn’t drown the audience with the history of World War I, but rather depicts the day-to-day lives of soldiers. The film only uses audio from actual World War I soldiers. Not a single voice is modern. Jackson made sure that each soldier came to life by adding emotive expressions and coloring to them. Numerous scenes are filled with close ups of soldiers’ faces in order to emphasize that the war was not a battle of nations, but of young, naïve boys.

At the end of the film, Jackson returns to the screen to describe the process of making They Shall Not Grow Old. It was amazing to see how much time was dedicated to each frame of the film. Jackson ensured that every detail was correct. He spend a lot of time taking sure that even the most minute details of the soldiers’ uniforms were authentic. He even went as far as to visit France to take pictures of the environment in order to make sure that the grass was the right color.

Overall, They Shall Not Grow Old is a sweeping account of soldiers’ experiences in World War I with a modern style. If you are even the slightest bit interested in history, this film should be the next thing you watch.