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


I’d intended for my next post to be on the Battle of Midway, getting myself ready for the up-and-coming film.

I changed direction when my husband surprised me yesterday with a copy of a film we saw last year- Peter Jackson’s  They Shall Not Grow Old. I hadn’t realized that it had made it onto disc and to the U.S., so today as I research that other article, I want to share this older post on the film’s extrodinary story.

I hope you enjoy it!


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?

Many thanks for visiting!

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

  1. I have studied WW1 so much, read about it so much in an effort to understand – not the politics, but how men could get keep going, could get through. I don’t think we can grasp it today – it was a different world. My reading includes volumes of first-hand accounts (Lyn MacDonald’s are far and away the best). I have visited the Western Front three times now – each one a humbling and mesmerising experience. BUT – ‘They Shall Grow Not Old’ brings aspects of the Great War to life more than anything I have ever seen. The technology is astonishing – but you forget it, because, for a moment, you are there. Laurence Binyon, who wrote the classic lines,
    “They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
    Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
    At the going down of the sun and in the morning
    We will remember them”
    lived in our village when his father was the vicar.
    See the movie if you can.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s all kind of baffling, isn’t it? Just how much people can live through when they have no choice, and the experiences some can survive that break others-
      I especially appreciated Jackson’s choice to let the veteran’s voices be the narrators.

      I envy your opportunity to get to visit these places, but I was glad that the film made it to the State- being so physically removed from all of those sites, I think it’s easier for collective memory to fade. Things like this film help keep us connected to the past.

      Thanks for sharing the full text of the poem- how beautiful.


  2. I have seen the film. Remastering is made it feel more real. As if you were almost there. Of course it was a horrible scenery yet the lads seem to be in good spirit regardless.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. They really did a tremendous job with the remastering, didn’t they? And I agree- it was interesting how they showed the contrast between the horrors of war and the positive parts of the military experience for the gentlemen they had narrating.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes indeed. I would recommend it to anyone and they should show it in history class in high school so that young people see how war can be…

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I hope you can! It really is a tremendous piece of history preserved. If you do, make sure you watch the “making of” interview with Peter Jackson afterward- it’s almost as fascinating as the film itself 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, thanks for the ideas! We have Patton on VHS and had planned to watch it- then our VCR broke. (Time to go hunting through the thrift stores!) I’d heard a little about “The Pacific” I believe- will have to keep an eye out for it!


    1. YES! I had no idea till he gave it to me! ❤ I think you guys will really appreciate it- the “making of” with Peter Jackson is just about as fascinating as the film, too (impressive enough that I think Ive fully forgiven him for The Hobbit at last 😉)

      Liked by 1 person

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