At the Movies with Alan Gekko: They Shall Not Grow Old

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: They Shall Not Grow Old

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Documentary/ Runtime: 99 or 129 minutes (depending on which cut of the film you are watching)

I feel it is safe to say that the genre of motion picture known as the war documentary really truly has acquired a little hint of an image as a type of movie that is so boring and so numerous in regards to how many titles are in existence that I really feel that whenever a new one is released it really isn’t seen as momentous in any way. Yet with that being said, it should also be noted that, quite like any other enterprise of an artistic nature, if you find a way to do it in a way that is unique then it can often lead to wonderful results. Such is the case with Peter Jackson’s new documentary They Shall Not Grow Old. Indeed not only is this a riveting look into the topic of World War 1 on the Western Front, but it’s also a mesmerizing experience due to how it manages to place audiences amongst actual first-hand looks at British soldiers who were part of the fighting.

The background is as follows: having found himself being tasked by the Imperial War Museum to create a cinematic experience meant to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of that horrendous conflict that was World War I, Peter Jackson decided to take footage that was actually filmed during the war and bring it back to life in order to showcase it for a “modern audience”. Indeed through the aspects of putting it in color, making it into 3D, and also including actual audio dialogue from the men who actually fought and lived through the infamous conflict, the end result is a riveting documentary that showcases just how resilient and courageously the English were in rising up to meet head-on the various complications in the war that was directly in front of them. Indeed from the dawn of the conflict and the thousands upon thousands of men who enrolled to serve all the way to the end of the war as represented by Armistice Day, we as an audience members are given the opportunity to witness the war as it happened by those that it actually happened to.

Now if this was a documentary that was being judged primarily as a creative challenge, then it’s a challenge that it has succeeded in besting beyond any words imaginable. Indeed just the degree of restoring that the director and the rest of the filmmaking crew were able to carry out on this footage that is at least over 100 years old is phenomenal with particular regard to the moments at the beginning and end when we get to witness what life was like before the conflict started, and in the aftermath of it. Ultimately however, it’s when focus is on the war itself where this documentary turns into a truly phenomenal experience in 3D that not only contributes a kaleidoscope of color, but also an amazing degree of depth as well that literally makes the footage feel as if it is coming to life before our eyes. Indeed there is also even terrific pluses in the forms of a musical accompaniment, various sound effects, and also dialogue of a sort since there are people speaking for the warriors in the footage thus providing them with a voice of sorts so that way we can get to know them on a more intimate level than if they were just still photographs in flat 2D.

Yet I feel it is within the standards of the historical subject matter that really manage to take this documentary and elevate it to absolutely necessary viewing status. Indeed the fact that the director was actually capable of assembling a surprisingly well-put together story of sorts out of mostly old film and audio clips is absolutely incredible. I mean you are actually getting the opportunity to listen to men who fought and lived through the Great War talking all that they saw and witnessed while actual archival footage and old photos taken during the war play out on screen. Yet instead of just showcasing this material in a way that would make you want to go to sleep, the director instead utilizes the tools given to him in phenomenal effect and actually crafts a tale that is quite arresting and engaging for the viewer. Indeed both the horrors and the brotherhood present in war are displayed herein in equal measure and they are both mixed together in a way that really makes them quite palpable for you, the viewer through the course of the entire film.

Now this documentary is one that was truly a project that Pete Jackson invested quite a bit of passion and heart into as evident by the fact that he dedicates it both to his grandfather and to a couple of other people from New Zealand who fought in the First World War. Indeed it really truly is both positive and moving to witness a director’s extraordinary amount of interest in the material literally be showcased not only in the film itself, but also in just how much of the subject itself is covered. Even if, in a taped intro to this film that plays before it, Peter Jackson does acknowledge that the film is in some ways possessing too slim of a focus in the fact that the majority of the documentary does tend to focus on the infamous trenches present on the Western Front. Yet after witnessing what he was able to accomplish whilst focusing on a single aspect of this truly complex war, I definitely feel it would be wonderful to see him explore other aspects of the conflict be it naval or aerial in other documentaries.

All in all They Shall Not Grow Old tells the riveting saga not only of a country that was ready to engage in conflict for their beliefs, but also the price that was meted out in order for that country to emerge both in one piece and as a winner in that conflict. In that regard, it must be said that this film truly is essential for all lovers of history and the military as well as everyone else to watch. It’s also however a riveting look at the benevolence that lies just under any truly epic skirmish between people, a topic that assuredly needs more focus paid to it whenever people decide to discuss the idea of war. Indeed suffice it to say that the reason this is crucial is because should we as people ever not remember just who we used to be before the conflict ever occurred as well as why we fought in the first place then the conflicts that mankind engages in will never ever come to an end. Indeed suffice it to say then that in regard as well as should your film watching desire come in the form of a documentary about war that showcases its topic and gives it a pulse that is all too alive and all too human then They Shall Not Grow Old is mandatory to watch. On a scale of 1-5 I give They Shall Not Grow Old a solid 5 out of 5.