When the Great War was announced in 1914, it caught many by surprise, but in Britain the mood was positive, as nobody believed they could lose, certainly not against the Germans who had been posited as an enemy nation for some time - though that had not prevented members of each country visiting the other without much bother. Nevertheless, once the conflict had commenced the young men were only too happy to sign up for the armed forces in the belief it was their patriotic duty, and ex-soldiers were re-recruited as officers to boost the numbers. Yet while the survivors would look back on their experience as of enormous value, the feelings were mixed...
They Shall Not Grow Old was a documentary from blockbuster producer and director Peter Jackson who was invited by the Imperial War Museum to bring the battles and the time of the mid-to-late nineteen-tens to life in a way that a compilation of the scratchy, black and white footage as it existed might not have done. To pull this off he applied his extensive special effects team to cleaning up said footage - and more, as they corrected the speed to make it flow smoothly, colourised every frame by hand, added actors and sound effects so we could hear what was going on as close as they could approximate, and reframed the clips to fill the widescreen ratio, rather than the 4:3 they were shot in.
There were some grumbles about this treatment, especially from those who did not take Jackson seriously from his popular position as a purveyor of special effects with the plots wandering along some way behind, so there were fears the entire exercise would be one of extreme bad taste. If you gave it a chance, as many did, there was a possibility those views would endure, but for most audiences the piece succeeded as intended, and in its cinema bookings the additions of 3D showings were additionally instrumental in its intended vivid quality. The most important thing was it made the conflict a talking point again, though as it was released around the hundredth anniversary of the end was not too difficult.
And it should not be stated that this film was responsible for an upsurge in interest in the First World War, as the tribute events were global news, especially at a time when a sharp increase in nationalism was worrying many that a fresh conflict could be brewing in much the same way the one that had ended a century before had been fostered in the crucible of extreme self-interest. Mind you, there were differences, most notably in the weaponry: nuclear missiles would make sure that World War III would be over a lot faster than dragging on for four years. All of this exacerbated the sense of the past being a very long time ago, no matter the efforts of Jackson and his team of visual effects whizzes that endeavoured to render this as modern-seeming as they could, begging the question, why?
Were we so removed from an era where the soldiers suffered so badly that it had to take all these whistles and bells to make us care? There was a reminder at the end in the dedications and credits where the reality was from the 2018 perspective there were not so many generations between the war dead and war survivors of the trenches (and beyond), but oddly the colourization and the sound created a mood that was not so much planting us in the middle of the sheer hell of those events, but distancing us since even at this time, the technology was not quite able to live up to the lofty ideals they were aiming for, no matter how noble their intentions. There was no doubt the makers' hearts were in the right place but seeing the monotony of the grey (ironically) imagery did not offset the eyewitness testimony drawn from radio interviews on the soundtrack. There were valuable nuggets of information throughout, but the feeling of watching an artificial exercise overrode the intended result. Yet for all the misgivings, if it didn't succeed for you, you should not begrudge it.
Hugely talented New Zealand director best known today for his Lord of the Rings adaptations. Started out making inventive, entertaining gore comedies like Bad Taste and Braindead, while his adult Muppet-spoof Meet the Feebles was a true one-off. Jackson's powerful murder drama Heavenly Creatures was his breakthrough as a more 'serious' filmmaker, and if horror comedy The Frighteners was a bit of a disappoinment, then his epic The Lord Of The Rings trilogy - Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King were often breathtaking interpretations of Tolkien's books. 2005's blockbuster King Kong saw Jackson finally realise his dream of updating his all-time favourite film, but literary adaptation The Lovely Bones won him little respect. In 2012 he returned to Middle Earth with the three-part epic The Hobbit and in 2018 directed acclaimed WWI doc They Shall Not Grow Old.