Film Review--Peter Jackson's "They Shall Not Grow Old"

John T Kuehn's picture

All:   My wife, oldest son (army vet) and I went and viewed Peter Jackson's documentary film in a special showing in Kansas City last night at a local theater (it was a special showing and tickets had to be ordered onhline in advance).

I will not say too much about how the film came to be made and Jackson's choices,  he does a more than wonderful job of explaining things both at the beginning of the film as well as in a must see "documentary of the documentary" after the credits for the main event are finished rolling.

Spoiler alert, I will give away a couple things about the film, but try to avoid giving away too much.

First of all, the basic material comes from the hundreds of hours of film footage (mabye thousands) that the Imperial War Museum in Britain made available to Jackson for the project.

Jackson sort of iteratively worked his way through how he wanted to handle the film as well as hundreds of hours of oral history recordings with veterans of World War I also made available to him.   He pretty much limited his raw material to the colleciton of the Imperial war Museum.

To cut to the chase, with editing, and colorization, he brings the British soldier's perpective of World War I to life for modern audiences in a stunning way.  it is a masterpiece of existential/humanistic film-making.   There is a beautiful symmetry to the film in the way he goes from black and white, to color, and then back to black and white.

Again, it is a stunning piece of work and i would recommend it for all audiences except perhaps children younger than about 10 years old (because of some of the graphic wounds and deaths depicted).  The soundtrack is no less brilliant.  If Jackson had never done the Lord of the Rings films he would still be justly celebrated for this achievement.

I would be interested to hear the views of other H-Warriors on the topic, with the caveat that Jackson himself says he made this film for the non-historian, not for academic military historians and historians.

BTW, He never explains the title of the film.  I guess he leaves it to information/social mediea saavy audiences to google  the title and learn its origins.   [Hint: the only people who have seen the end of war are the dead]

John T. Kuehn, Fort Leavenworth Kansas

Well, that's all fine and good, Peter Jackson, but weren't we told about a remake of "The Dam Busters" you were giving us, one of these days? I recall some discussion about how to handle mentioning the name of Wing Commander Guy Gibson's dog.

I saw the movie with a male friend (some of the imagery is pretty rough, and probably not suitable for more sensitive types, including my dear wife).
I was taken with three things, to wit:
First, the pretty astounding technical accomplishment of taking 100 year old movies and making them look completely modern, even in quite authentic-looking color. I saw the 3-D version; the effect was subtly done, but is a no less astonishing technical achievement. Watching and hearing some of the subjects speak (these were silent films!) was yet another subtle but stunning feat.
Second, the flow of the narrative, while not particularly innovative (early enthusiasm for giving the Kaiser a shellacking —> war is a horrrible business in all respects —> the veteran’s fate is fraught), it was done with authenticity and poignancy, using the words of veterans themselves. I was struck by the Stoicism of the men whose commentaries were chosen. This narrative is very much in the “view from bottom up” mode rather than from the “great man” mode of historical story telling.
Finally, the music. Trench songs of the era, often so subtly in the background you hardly heard them, and the final ditty, played over the credits (and sung -with authenticity - by a bunch of Brit diplomats, clerks and other types by special arrangement with the director).
Peter Jackson’s commentary at the beginning and after the credits constitute (in a completely inapt analogy) the topping on a superb historical cake.

Tom Snyder
Vallejo CA