Release Date: December 17th, 2018
Director: Peter Jackson
Studio: WingNut Films Distributor: Warner Bros.
This is a strange thing to have to review. My usual beat here at Nerdophiles is the latest superhero flick, terrible horror movie, or genre defining sci-fi. It’s not often a documentary comes along in theaters, and even less often that one comes along quite like this.
They Shall Not Grow Old is a documentary of a different sort, a tale of The Great War from those who lived it, the men who served on the Western Front. It is told in their voices, from recordings done by oral historians, and paired with archival footage that has been painstakingly restored, it is as close to ‘being there’ that any of us will ever get.
The doc presents a narrower focus than you might expect. It isn’t about World War I, the causes, the intricacies of alliances and militarism that brought the world to its knees. If you’re looking for that full history lesson, it’s not here and those expecting it will be disappointed. Instead, the war is seen through the eyes of those men, boys mostly, from the British Empire who found themselves going to war.
We see their experiences enlisting, forging documents, lying about their age — whatever it took to get over to the continent. When they make this transition, from civilian to armed forces, the full extent of the restorative work Jackson and his team have brought in is shown — a smooth transition into colorized footage brings us to the trenches. The voices of the various veterans then take us through their first charge across No Man’s Land; this battle and its fallout serve as both the second act and a summation of the entire war.
They charge, some die, and some come face to face with the enemy on the other side of the trenches. They take prisoners, finding the German soldiers to be much like them. And then, as suddenly as it began, it all comes to a close. The men read about the end of the war and are summarily shipped back home. In showing all of this without the larger context of the war, the viewer is given an experience similar to that of the soldiers, we just focus on what their day to day was like, the microscale of an event that had ramifications on the macro.
With the restorations and coloring Jackson brought to this archival footage, They Shall Not Grow Old is the most intimate, if not the finest, of all World War I docs. Its release is slowing spreading across the globe, as soon as it becomes available for you definitely check it out!