Because the only thing growing old here is the point once you’ve reached the halfway mark.
Synopsis: Between 1914 and 1918, a global conflict changed the course of history. The people who experienced it did not live in a silent, black and white world. Travel back in time to experience history with those who were actually there. (Warner Bros.)
Director: Peter Jackson
Rating: R (United States)
Running Time: 99mins
Since it’s unveiling at the 2018 London Film Festival, They Shall Not Grow Old has been at the center of all the talk. In what was a 3 year effort for auteur Peter Jackson, who hasn’t been seen much since the Hobbit trilogy wrapped, much anticipation and rave reviews have welcomed this film in its late-ish entry to the year of the documentary. In what started this project, the World War 1 museum reached out to Jackson to make them a film for the 100th anniversary of the end of WW1, using archive footage in a unique way. Jackson has been praised for the “unique way” of his choosing – coloring and remastering World War 1 footage in RealD 3D to look like today. Although this is quite impressive, it is a bit unfortunate that this idea gets somewhat stale after a while.
It feels right to begin this by praising the effort and innovation involved to make this film come to life. Jackson, the WW1 museum and team have put a lot of pressure on themselves to make this perfect, and in terms of the technical side of it all, it does succeed. In the transition from raw footage to remastered footage, occurring about 30 minutes in, the gaps and awe from the audience was quite evident, and it was clear that everyone there truly felt we were witnessing something special. The sheer detail on screen was quite beautiful to behold and it will be difficult to believe that it’s all real. When viewing the film in 3D, it feels like you are there on the western front with the scared teenagers in the battle.
For what was surely the main point of the film which was its immersiveness, it’s easy to call the film a success. However, with ambition comes obstacles, and there were quite a large amount of them that film could not overcome by the end. To begin, the concept does feel somewhat redundant as the film progresses, and by the time you reach the hour mark, it does start to seem like a gimmick that relies on your initial reaction. Since there isn’t much of a structure to the film, it’s easy to get lost and tune out at any point without missing anything.
Another issue is that the film’s focus and objective almost gets buried under all the innovation. The beginning of the film was quite strong, and it is equally impressive with its visuals and intriguing with the story of men in war. However, it gets somewhat self indulgent by the end, becoming all about the beautiful transformed footage and less about the actual war. As we get further and further into the film, it feels like we are only supposed to pay attention to Jackson opposed to the young men on the battlefield, making for something that isn’t as emotionally grounded as it could’ve been.
They Shall Not Grow Old is certainly commendable for it’s one of a kind visual style, but that’s really it. These parts are the focus, and that deserves the grades on its own, but when it gets lost in the visuals and forgets the emotion and story behind it all, it’s hard not to tune out. But if you are checking this out for the remaster, as many will, you likely won’t be disappointed on that front.