They Shall Not Grow Old: Extended Edition
Peter Jackson's commemorative WWI documentary featuring 30 minutes of extra, behind-the-scenes footage following the feature.
"Driven by a personal interest in the First World War, Jackson set out to bring to life the day-to-day experience of its soldiers. Using the voices of the men involved, the film explores the reality of war on the front line; their attitudes to the conflict; how they ate; slept and formed friendships, as well what their lives were like away from the trenches during their periods of downtime. Jackson and his team used cutting edge techniques to make the images of a hundred years ago appear as if they were shot yesterday. The transformation from black and white footage to colourised footage can be seen throughout the film revealing never before seen details." (Official synopsis)
Rating: RP16 Graphic content may disturb
New Zealand, UK
Feeling heavily enlightened and emotionally shattered during Sir Peter Jackson's They Shall Not Grow Old, I grew to realise a potential double meaning behind the film's title. It's a line from Robert Laurence Binyon's poem For the Fallen which, when used here, reflects the colossal restoration and colouring efforts put in place to house the memories of those who gave their lives to The Great War. It's also a stark reminder of the youth that was robbed of these men.
The beginning spends a solid chunk of time re-establishing early 20th Century Britain with hardly any visual touches. It's a clever framing device that successfully settles the audience into the era they think they know, only to overwhelm with colour and size once the soldiers enter the battlefield.
This digitalised revamping is unlike anything I've seen before—certainly not as simple as clicking a 'turn on the colour' button. Rather, it takes on a semi-surreal painting-in-motion look, very faintly reminiscent of last year's Loving Vincent where every frame was literally a painting.
Through this method, the life in the faces and bodies of these men truly stand out, especially in contrast to the bleakness of their mudbound, ironclad, bloodstained environment. There's no detailed footage of men dying on the battlefield—only stills of their corpses—as if to grimly remind you that when a man dies, his whole world stops. It truly strains the heart.
Jackson and his team grant movement and colour to the living while archival audio allows the actual soldiers to narrate the film with first-hand accounts. From it, a fascinating collective mindset emerges as they share strikingly similar thoughts on enlisting, killing, dying, the disgusting food they ate, the pleasures in following orders, and the friendships they formed—even with the enemy.
The film does not shy away from showing the harrowing details—both big and small—that made up this ungodly time and place. It's a necessary despair to depict, for the biggest and most bittersweet quality that connected these soldiers was an ability to keep spirits high. A century on, They Shall Not Grow Old takes hold of that quality too by keeping those spirits lifted with a cinematically caressed experience that preserves their faces and treasures their words.