Director Peter Jackson is best known for his groundbreaking Lord of the Rings movies. His new World War I documentary They Shall Not Grow Old ranks with the trilogy as a stunning cinematic accomplishment. Jackson’s studio remastered century-old footage with such incredible detail that film from the Great War is brought into the next millennium.
World War I was the last major conflict before technology was able to capture action in a realistic way. We have all seen grainy video with poor frame rates that dates the film into yesteryear. The awkward timing of the captured movement is a distant way to observe the time period.
The sub-par quality ages the conflict more than it should. World War II is a conflict that has inspired countless films and documentaries. The War To End All Wars feels out of touch as a 20th Century moment.
Peter Jackson’s work changes that misconception. His studio enhanced, colorized, and altered the timing of the original film to make it appear relatively contemporary.
They Shall Not Grow Old connects audiences with World War I like never before. The film starts with typical period footage before gradually changing to the enhanced product. The result is a vivid, emotional, and stomach-churning documentation of the everyday experiences of soldiers.
Rather than a macro look at campaigns and tactics, the film immerses viewers in the horrors of trench warfare, mustard gas, tanks, and no man’s land.
Because of the static nature of the era’s film cameras, little footage of World War I battles exists. They Shall Not Grow Old frequently shows soldiers before and after they entered hell. The most haunting scene shows a group of soldiers as they stare into camera, creating a visceral connection with the past. Sadly, the squad was cut down in battle moments after the film was shot.
The piece is narrated by old interviews from troops who served in World War I. Like the video, the audio is upgraded with incredible quality. The tremendous combination of audio and video brings an authenticity to the documentary.
The technical magic of Peter Jackson’s studio is explained in a featurette after the film. The studio went to great lengths to break ground while putting together the documentary. Unexpectedly, the creation of They Shall Not Grow Old is as interesting as the final product.
After being engaged by the Imperial War Museum, Jackson’s WingNut Films did more than just enhance archival film and audio. They also traveled to different locations to replicate regional color palettes. At the end, the director explains how they even corralled the services of embassy staffers to create a song for the credits.
The studio’s efforts result in an important viewing opportunity. They Shall Not Grow Old is an effective presentation of wartime life. The documentary offers the rare chance to visualize World War I without the obstruction of antiquated technology. The suddenness of being connected to the past is a striking and rewarding experience that can be appreciated by an audience ranging from military historians to casual observers.