Film, History Class, Storytelling, Uncategorized, World War I


Capturing St. Mihiel Salient- 3 soldiers operating a cannon- pile of empty cannon shell casings in foreground. Sept 1918, Courtesy U.S. Library of Congress

I was fascinated by the concept of Peter Jackson’s newest film, but disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to see it- unless, of course, I could manage a flight to the U.K. (Not likely. “Hey kids, you like the taste of Ramen noodles, right? Well, guess what we’re eating this month!)

While I’ve enjoyed some of his work, it wasn’t the director’s name that caught my eye.

November 11, 2018 marked the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One. In preparation for the event, associates of the Imperial War Museums approached Peter Jackson in 2014 with one hundred hours of original WWI footage that they hoped he could present in a fresh, new way.

He took on the challenge, and the following preview gives a glimpse of the results.

While the previews looked amazing, getting out to see a movie in the States is tricky enough! I just hoped that it would make it onto DVD.

Then, a friend passed the word along. It was coming.

They Shall Not Grow Old would be in driving distance of us- for one night only

Our brave babysitter, with full knowledge of the fact that one of our offspring had been vomiting the previous night, swept in and took charge. The roads were slippery, the rains were torrential, and we were both tired after a night of clean-up, but my husband and I went anyway.

They Shall Not Grow Old was well worth the effort.

Movie cameras in the early 1900s were cranked by hand, producing a jerky, inconsistent picture. Much of the surviving footage was too light, too dark, or just too time-worn.

The creators of They Shall Not Grow Old cleaned up the film, evening out the timing, improving the lighting, and clarifying the pictures.

They colorized portions of it, painstakingly matching the colors of the scenery to actual locations filmed, and clothing to Jackson’s personal collection of WWI uniforms. (If you’ve got the money and enjoy history, why not collect?)

Jackson used some other parts of his personal collection to create sound for the film. As he had a few WWI artillery pieces sitting around, the crew recorded the sound of their treads.

They also recorded other authentic sound effects to insert over the silent pictures, such as rifles and artillery, boots squelching in mud, and voices with accents matched to the home regions of the men captured on film.

The results are stunning. Faces from a century ago come to life and lock eyes with the audience. Some grin, relaxed while they clown around for the camera. Others freeze, awkward and stiff, likely harkening back to still photos they’d had taken which required a fixed pose.

As far as narration, Jackson’s choice was, in my opinion, perfect. The Imperial War Museum has recordings of interviews with WWI veterans in their archives. Portions of these interviews, compiled into a streamlined narrative, provided the words to go with the images, allowing the men who were there to tell their story in their own words.

The only thing I didn’t like about the film stems from pure greed.

In some sections, Jackson reused pictures and footage. While it was done for dramatic effect (and yes, I think that it was effective) I caught myself wishing for more new footage. As I said: I’m greedy.

The film was rated “R” in the U.S. and I’d agree that it’s best suited for a more mature audience. It includes some partial nudity (ever wonder about WWI latrines? See the film and you won’t anymore…;) .) It also some intense and sad images of wounded and slain troops, and a section on “brothels” (a term I don’t want to explain to the wee ones just yet…or ever, really.)

Also, be warned that you may walk out whistling “Mademoiselle from Armentieres.” (I was going to share a link, but a number of them are blocked because they think I’m too young. 🙂 )

Depending on where you live, chances to view They Shall Not Grow Old may be limited. However, if you have a chance to see this bit of history-made-new, I hope that you are able to take it!

Have any of you seen the film? What did you think of it?

Do you have any other historical film recommendations? (I MAY have some time to watch things with Christmas break upon us, after all…)

Many thanks for visiting!

15 thoughts on “Peter Jackson’s THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD”

  1. Your comment about lack of opportunity to see the film in the States brought home how fortunate we are here in UK Anne. I’m so glad you did have the opportunity to see it. At times I found it difficult to accept that it really had been colourised etc, so convincing was it. (At other times it was very apparent, but all the better for it – had it been ‘perfect’ it might have sanitised the horror). Are you aware that some of the narration was a result of lip-readers interpreting the silent film? Altogether an incredible & very moving film, accurately described by you. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There really were moments when it felt like a modern film, weren’t there? I think you hit it on the head though- if it were too perfect, it wouldn’t have been as moving.
      Thanks for bringing up the lip readings- the version we saw had a half hour interview with Peter Jackson at the end, where he detailed some of that process- AMAZING.
      Thanks for stopping by!


  2. I haven’t seen it – and it sounds as though I should. Like most families, I know I had a great-uncle who died in WW1 as a result of joining up as a teenager. Thank you for sharing this, Anne…

    Liked by 1 person

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