Peter Jackson’s career is far from conventional. The New Zealand director started making low budget horror movies before going on to helm perhaps the greatest trilogy in movie history. After winning 11 Oscars for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Jackson has failed to reach similar heights. His latest project They Shall Not Grow Old is about as far from Middle Earth as you can get, but is perhaps his finest achievement.
The documentary focuses on telling the stories of the British soldiers who fought in the trenches during The First World War. This is achieved through voiceover and footage provided by the Imperial War Museum. So far, so standard. It is only 20 minutes in, when the soldiers arrive at the trenches, that the documentary reveals its true colours.
Through the use of cutting edge technology, the footage from a century ago has been completely modernised. This includes changing the aspect ratio, framerate and a complete colourisation. The result is unbelievable, and the documentary knows it; the transitional scene from the old footage to the new is breathtaking.
The audio is just as impressive. Lip-readers were used to work out exactly what was being said and each speaker is voiced by an actor from the region that they would have been from. This new audio is married with the interviews of the heroes of the First World War who are telling their stories. The use of the audio to complement the footage is mirrored in such a way that it provides a remarkable insight into the mindsets of the soldiers.
These interviews start with an anticipation which shows just how much the men were looking forward to the war. This attitude does shift as conditions worsen but a level of gallantry remains throughout, which is perhaps slightly jarring for a modern audience. This attitude towards the war is one rarely heard and this makes it all the more interesting.
The Second World War is a more-widely told story and this is perhaps because it’s easier to tell. The Nazis were evil. The war clearly perceived as moral. The documentary does well to remind us that The First World War was far from necessary. The voiceovers towards the end reflect upon the friendships the men shared with their German prisoners. As the armistice is signed and the men return home they reflect on just how little had changed and how pointless it all was.
They Shall Not Grow Old has been meticulously crafted to create the most authentic experience possible. This is not so much a film, it is an educational resource. Peter Jackson has created something which will be shown in schools for years to come, a lesson to remind us of the bravery of the men who faced the horrors of war. They shall not grow old and we will remember them.
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