The best cinematic moment of the year has arrived and it is on just February. In Peter Jackson's stunning World War I documentary, there is a scene where the film shifts from grainy, black and white 4:3 footage that we are used to seeing of this era into a vividly restored and colorized miracle that fills the screen. It completely changes your idea of the Great War in an instant.
They Shall Not Grow Old refuses to follow many conventions of historical documentaries. There isn't a narrator or chapters that signal the academic validity of the film. Instead, we hear a choir of voices of British soldiers that were there. We see faces of the men, again and again, reminding us this war was fought by young men that averaged the age of 17.
Jackson has been working on this for several years, being given access to Britain's Imperial War Museum to create something to mark the war's centenary. What he does is utilize his technical prowess to give us an immediate perspective of the war. Previously, watching footage from WWI had an element of separation to it. The hand-cranked black and white film keeps viewers from related to the footage in a personal way. The incredible feat Jackson has achieved is to make the way feel less in the past. We see the war being fought under blue skies and in green fields for the first time ever.
This technical trick would be enough to praise by Jackson has done much more here. He tells the first-hand story of the soldier's experience. We get a clear-eyed portrait of what it was like to fight in this war. The conditions were awful and yet the men were able to keep spirits up, almost giddy from the constant tension. The film successfully changes how you may view the war due to these testimonials used from oral historian collections done in the '50s and '60s.
They Shall Not Grow Old is a stunning achievement. It marks a new height in historical documentaries and preservation efforts. It also gives a harrowing portrait of the Great War from the mouths of those who survived it.