“…will revolutionize high school history classes for the rest of time.”
World War I (or ‘The Great War’ as it was called before we went and fought each other again) is one of the most iconic historic moments ever. Millions of men from their respective countries left their homes to shoot at one another for no reason other than because they were told. But despite it being such a huge moment in human history, specific knowledge of the event is fleeting. Sure people know it happened, but that’s about it.
WWI is at the point where society has become so distanced from it that it feels like a dream. No one in our family fought in it, so it holds no more weight than anything you see on television. This is dangerous. I’m of the mindset that when history is forgotten, those who forgot it are doomed to repeat it. Luckily, in this particular instance at least, Peter Jackson was able to step in and save the day.
They Shall Not Grow Old chronicles The Great War from the perspective of select British soldiers’ oral accounts, and using newly remastered footage from the war itself. I’m not sure if Peter Jackson shared my intention of educating the general public so as to not have a repeat of history, but either way that goal was met. They Shall Not Grow Old does an amazing job of paying homage to the tremendously brave men of the time that unfortunately had to go off and fight for reasons unknown to them.
The reason They Shall Not Grow Old will stand the test of time, at least in my opinion, is because it was made personal. Jackson took oral accounts of multiple soldiers, who each had their own personal anecdotes, points of view, and personalities, and highlighted exactly just what this war meant to them.
The beginning of the documentary is great because it chronicles how these men came to fight in this war. The stories of the recruitment and training process are accompanied by wonderfully remastered footage from the time that is presented in its original aspect ratio giving the audience a feeling of peering through time rather than watching a film. This feeling was only accentuated by the 3D presentation of the film.
But then They Shall Not Grow Old goes above and beyond when you are transported literally inside of the footage and you are no longer watching the war, you are a part of it. The personal stories of these soldiers continue but now you feel what they are saying rather than just understanding it.
They Shall Not Grow Old is a marvel on multiple accounts. First of all it does an amazing job of highlighting just what the war was like for soldiers. We get these intimate looks at living and fighting in trenches, the camaraderie, and the general laid-back tone of a lot of the young (at the time) boys who were fighting. But it also does a good job of portraying just how serious it was. They Shall Not Grow Old knows when to hold for laughter just as well as it knows when it has your heart in a vice.
The second way They Shall Not Grow Old is such a hallmark achievement is on a technical level. The care that went into making this film is obvious throughout its entirety. Not only is the footage we see lovingly remastered, but it’s also composed into a narrative to give the audience something to help them along this journey.
Now I will admit They Shall Not Grow Old did have a few problems in terms of some of the technical parts of the film. Some things seemed a little off to say the least, but I don’t hold this against the film in the slightest. What Peter Jackson accomplished with They Shall Not Grow Old is astounding.
What I do hold against the movie was the very forced nature of the story being told. Jackson did a good job of not only presenting a fairly cohesive narrative from the various audio interviews of soldiers, but also matching it up to the footage he had available to him. Most of the time this provided a seamless look at the reality of WWI. Unfortunately there were times, specifically when discussing battles, that there was a marked difference in how the story was presented.
Footage was constantly replayed, still images were subbed in for actual video, and the movie itself seemed to stagnate. I understand why Jackson kept this part of the story in, and I understand why the footage of the battles themselves doesn’t exist, but I also cannot deny that this felt like a stumbling point for an otherwise phenomenal endeavour.
Overall They Shall Not Grow Old will revolutionize high school history classes for the rest of time. Finally we have an actual look at what The Great War was like for those fighting it. Unfortunately the fighting itself is where the film stumbles. Either way it is still a terribly emotional look at one of the biggest pieces of history.
I give They Shall Not Grow Old a B