They Shall Not Grow Old

This new movie from Peter Jackson is truly unique and special.  It is to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I and is told entirely through period images with veterans’ voices providing narration.

Join me for a look at a project aimed at history buffs and film buffs alike.

I’ve said before I don’t intend to make this a movie review site, and yet I keep coming up with reasons to make exceptions.
Further, this is a bit outside my primary focus being about the First World War. I need to add this could be a hard film to find until goes to streaming services; at least in the US it is not in broad release.  We had it one day only at the biggest theater in Ann Arbor, and I believe it is making similar one day appearances at different theaters around the country.  But if you see it near you, GO!  You won’t regret it.

It is an odd sort of movie.  The vast majority of footage was shot “on location” from 1914-1918.  Of course that means it was silent and black and white.  So Peter Jackson’s wizards did a complete restoration of all materials.  Pictures are sharpened, scratches removed and even 3-D processing done.  But most significantly, the frame rate has been fixed.  Anyone who has seen such materials before will be familiar with the unnatural tempo and movement of things on old film.  And this is no easy fix, its not like there was a standard different rate in use at the time.  Cameras were hand cranked, so FPS varied with the cameraman, and even within a single source.
To me, fixing FPS is the most appreciated fix; it makes everything seem more real and alive.  But it sure doesn’t stop there. The main part of the movie is colorized too.  And this isn’t a cheap “made for TV” sort of process.  Its meticulous and accurate (mostly, MK V tanks should have been drab brown, not green.  Not sure how this got overlooked?).  Peter Jackson has a significant collection of World War I uniforms, guns, artillery (yes, he has at least two artillery pieces) and other paraphernalia that were used for color studies.  Apparently he doesn’t have a tank.
Because “combat photography” wasn’t really a thing at the time, period news art is used in a few places (maybe three minutes total?)

Sound adds further to the immersion.  The movie was given a modern film foley treatment. Soldiers talking on screen are given voice.  Forensic lip readers were used to reconstruct dialogue.  In one case, an officer was reading an order. The date and unit were known, which allowed for tracking down the actual order for a more accurate reading.
The narration comes from numerous interviews done with veterans by BBC in the 1960s.  These have been restored much like the picture and sound perfectly clean.

The movie is “about” what it was like to be a soldier from recruitment to demobilization.  It focuses on British infantry on the Western Front.  It doesn’t spend any time on air or sea, other nationalities or other combat theaters.  This makes for a pretty tightly focused and engrossing 99 minute tale.

It ends with a fascinating 30 minute “making of” feature hosted by Peter Jackson.  This is as compelling as the film itself.  He was approached by the Imperial War Museum who was looking to do something with 100 hours of film and 600 hours of veteran interviews in the their possession.  He describes in detail most of what I just brushed through quickly.

If you have enough interest in military history to be reading this site this film will surely be interesting to you.
Check it out!

~ Dave 

About atcDave

I'm 5o-something years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I was an air traffic controller for 33 years and recently retired; grew up in the Chicago area, and am still a fanatic for pizza and the Chicago Bears. My main interest is military history, and my related hobbies include scale model building and strategy games.
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7 Responses to They Shall Not Grow Old

  1. jfwknifton says:

    Absolutely agree! It’s well worth watching, and available on amazon.co.uk. which is my usual branch of Amazon here in England. I often buy from amazon.com so it shouldn’t be too difficult to do the process in reverse.

    • atcDave says:

      That’s interesting. I just did a quick look and it is available on disc at Amazon. So it’s easier to see than I feared!

      • atcDave says:

        After doing a double check on the disc at Amazon (I was planning for gift cards I don’t have yet!) I noticed it’s only available as a Region 2 DVD. This is bad on two levels; first it simply won’t play on most US disc players, we are Region 1. Second, DVD is a long way from the best format available. I would hold out for a BluRay (which doesn’t use regions either), hopefully soon!

  2. It certainly is a great film and definitely worth seeing. It was broadcast here in the U.K. On Armistice day after those silly single day showings that so few people can get to – why do such a thing? The inaccuracies certainly didn’t detract from the quality of the film, and I guess under the circumstances they can probably be forgiven. Definitely one to watch.

    • atcDave says:

      I’m surprised they did the limited shows there too! In the US I’m sure they figured the market was limited, and no theater wanted a screen committed for a whole week. Although I would add, the theater I was at had two showings. I can’t speak for the 4 o’clock, but the 7 was sold out. Maybe it just did much better than expected?
      You may know WWI much better than I, but the tanks being the wrong color was the only error I noticed. But even with that, the strength of it was the immersion in something that had always felt a little more surreal to me in the past. For the duration I couldn’t tear my eyes from the screen!

      • You may well be right Dave, perhaps they did under- estimate the popularity of the film. It does seem to be a trend here at the moment, ‘Spitfire’ was another one they gave the same treatment to. Being unable to see the film during the day I very annoyingly missed it. Like there, the showings were sold out, to the point. with ‘They shall not grow old’ they put on extra sessions. Maybe it’s a ploy to get bigger audiences at each showing or maybe it was just an under-estimation of popularity. – who knows.

        To be honest, I didn’t even notice the wrong colour, my knowledge of WW1 uniforms/colours is pretty poor, I can’t say I’ve seen many colour pictures from the time and those that I have seen were probably colourised anyway. It certainly was a brilliant film and I’m glad you had the opportunity to see it too. It was superb.

      • atcDave says:

        As I understand there was an experimental color process, and I’ve seen maybe a dozen true color pics from the war. And of course they were all the posed, no movement sort. This was certainly the best colorized work I’ve seen. Liberties could have been taken on any number of details though and I’d never be the wiser.

        I do HOPE this means we’ll get more showings of this and similar works. I need to watch again just to catch things with your accents! ‘Cuz you know, I don’t have one…

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